Off Limits

The Santa Clause

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus -- unless you attend Westerly Creek, Stapleton's elementary school.

As of December 8, all reindeer (Rudolph or otherwise), Santa Clauses, candy canes and Christmas trees had been removed from the walls of the Denver school. Where jolly old Saint Nick once hung in a kindergarten class, only used staples and one lone snowman remained. Yes, in an odd reversal of fortune, this case of the "December dilemma" had teachers removing secular holiday decorations rather than religious ones. Also getting the ax was one teacher's entire holiday unit, named "The Night Before Christmas," which called for kids to read the story and then make stockings.

Turns out that after one parent complained about the decor, principal Patricia Lea asked teachers to remove all mementos of the season -- except those directly referencing winter, such as Frosty. And if they put up menorahs or Kwanzaa decorations, Lea advised, Santa could stay.

Despite some parents feeling that the Grinch stole Christmas, everything is kosher with Denver Public Schools' "Commitment to Religious Neutrality" policy. "Holiday displays cannot appear to endorse or disapprove of religion or express a preference for any single faith; they should promote diversity and inclusiveness," it reads. "Religious symbols may be displayed during the holidays if they are: 1) used as teaching aids; 2) displayed temporarily; and 3) displayed with secular holiday objects or those that have obtained secular meaning such as the Christmas tree and dreidel."

Which still doesn't explain why Santa had to go. But nixing Saint Nick is "entirely within the normal process," according to district spokesman Mark Stevens.

"The spirit and the idea is that every student feel as they learn that they are in an environment that respects a broad diversity of backgrounds -- and that includes religion," he explains. "So if there's an overwhelming sense of Christmas and Christmas paraphernalia, it may feel to a parent or teacher that there is no room for another religious expression in that school, that a student would feel not welcome. And that's not what we want. As with many of our policies, there are some levels of subjectivity to this."

Just like deciding who's been naughty -- and who's been nice.

The birdies and the bees:Helping to putt the naughty in the holidays is Chris Wehrle, a Denver mortgage broker who was looking around his office a few years ago, spotted a golf club sitting against the wall with a ripped label that looked like the shape of a woman, and had this genius thought: "Could you really do that on a golf club?" And thus BlueBallSports was born.

So far, BlueBall has only one product, the Putt-Her golf club, which, like those old pens, shows a bikini-clad woman when you tip it over -- or, in the putter's case, get ready to take a swing. But between his initial brainstorm and the finished product, Wehrle faced a stiff learning curve. He went out to golf stores and looked for putters with thicker shafts that would have room for the girl gimmick. Then he went to the University of Denver and found some engineering students who were willing to design the putter. A machine shop north of town made five prototypes for a few hundred bucks each, "and we started making calls about who could manufacture something like this," Wehrle remembers.

That was the tricky part. It wasn't until his mother, Candy Phelps, asked her son, "Where are you with that idea?" that he found a solution. Phelps, a golfer who lives in Scottsdale, knew someone who knew of an overseas manufacturer. And Mom stepped in again to find the woman who would adorn the putter. "She goes to a spa for a haircut," Wehrle says, "and said she needed a model who's good-looking, voluptuous." The spa had a suggestion, so "we hired a photographer, and my mom met the girl for lunch." The potential model's only question: "Can I have a month to work out?"

She didn't need it. A Polish immigrant, she looks like any red-blooded American's dream in her two outfits: skimpy black lingerie (also chosen by Phelps) and a blue bikini. "People ask me who she is all the time," says Wehrle.

He may expand the line beyond this model at some point. But right now, he's content to finally have his website (www.blueballsports.com) up, where he sells his two putters for $78 each, then fulfills every order out of his Denver garage.

Fore!

Scene and heard:As they left the Slayerconcert last Tuesday, a few members of a frat pack started screaming, "Let's go throw bricks through car windows!" Cool, dude! The crowd was better behaved at last Thursday's celebration at Celebrate Denver!, where Hazel Miller introduced her set by telling the packed house that she didn't look anything like that cartoon in Westword, a seasonal homage to Denver's musical chestnuts by Kenny Be.


On the Record:

Bill Owenswas everywhere last week -- everywhere but on his way to the White House. Long rumored to be up for a seat in President Bush's reconfigured cabinet, the governor has watched one slot go to fellow Coloradan Jim Nicholson, with Interior Secretary Gale Norton retaining another. Fortunately, Owens still has plenty of ways to keep busy. He has his cable-TV sports show on Altitude and his regular gig with Mike Rosen, and Off Limits recently caught him yukking it up on both KYGO and KS 107.5, where Owens joked that having Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor of California "is bad because now I have the second-best body of all the Republican governors."

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