A splash of purple passion proves a big winner


April 05, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MAYBE IT was the plum wig, or the violet eyelashes. Or the carefully placed football halves sewed securely onto the handmade Astroturf chemise. Whatever it was, it won Gretchen Dobelstein not only notice, but also a trip to this year's Super Bowl and a stint as a model for Miller Lite beer.

Dobelstein, 26, says she has always been an enthusiastic sports fan, especially splashing out in team colors. But her winning persona as the wildly violet "football fairy" evolved last year, when she and her extended family drove a purple-painted van to Tampa, Fla., to watch the Ravens play in the Super Bowl.

Before heading south, the North Laurel resident searched for purple items for the clan to wear. It was not an easy task. "They're not really common, especially in Laurel, where it's mostly Redskins country," Dobelstein said. She persevered and found an assortment of purple wigs and other accoutrements. "We figured we couldn't go down there and have people think we were routing for any other team," she said.

Dobelstein, production manager for the eclectic fashion designer Lee Andersen of Vibrant Artwear in Savage, took her own get-up a bit further. She fashioned a dress from green Astroturf-like fabric, with wisps of purple crinoline peaking from the hemline. She added white stripes and numbers, a la a football field, and she attached fluffy purple wings to the back. She teamed the ensemble with a pair of purple-striped socks and clunky shoes, and topped it off with a purple wig, antennae and false eyelashes.

"You gotta have purple eyelashes," she said.

Several months later, at a kickoff rally in Baltimore, Dobelstein donned her costume again. There she was tapped by Miller Lite employees, who implored her to enter their "football fan" contest at the first Ravens game of the season.

Dobelstein complied and, outfitted in full football fairy regalia, won the contest. Her prize was a set of four tickets to the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The Ravens did not play in that game, but Dobelstein packed her costume anyway. "I brought it just in case someone noticed me," she said.

The costume worked - two weeks later, she got a call from Miller Lite's ad agency, asking her to model for a photo shoot. Last month, she flew to St. Louis, where she and four other "NFL fans" posed for the camera, holding up bottles of brew.

Dobelstein expects to see herself in bars and on tabletops - in the form of promotional banners and table tents - in June. Miller Lite paid for her travel and accommodations, but Dobelstein did not get a modeling fee. "It's just the fun of being on a banner," she said.

Now Dobelstein has turned her attention to another sport. "I'm thinking orange and black," she said. "There's a baseball costume in the works." She was at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on opening day Monday, seeking inspiration.

Helpful hoops

Students and staff members at Lime Kiln Middle School combined athletics with health awareness for a "Hoops for Heart" campaign that raised $7,250 for the American Heart Association.

"For our first year, we were pretty blown away," said physical education teacher Debbi Lange, coordinator of the event. "We have a very generous community."

The Valentine's Day event encompassed "heart healthy" lessons and activities and a program on disability awareness, Lange said.

Norm Belden, also a physical education teacher, set up basketball-related games for students and staff members. Some tried wheelchair basketball under the instruction of Larry Hughes, who presents disability-awareness programs at area schools. Schoolchildren had the benefit of watching a practiced wheelchair athlete in action - Lime Kiln sixth-grader Tatyana McFadden, a member of a wheelchair basketball team in Baltimore.

To complement the program, reading teacher Evelyn English had students make "heart healthy" recipe folders, and health educator Lucy Lublin discussed heart health during a staff meeting. Home economics teacher Cindy Dupski and art teacher Jaye Ayres made a "promise wall," where students and staff members posted pledges to make healthy lifestyle choices. And band director Andrew Spang updated the school's Web site to include information about the program, Lange said.

Parting words

Lori Alchiekha said her business was booming last weekend. "It was like Christmas all over again," the Savage Mill merchant said. Shirts, flags, trash cans, you name it - her merchandise flew off the shelves.

So what's her secret? Alchiekha sells everything you can imagine emblazoned with the University of Maryland Terrapins logo - including a basketball player nutcracker. Fans flocked to her 5-month-old shop, I'm a Turtle Too, and stocked up on Terp togs and knickknacks for Monday's national college basketball championship game.

Maryland's win is a windfall for Alchiekha. "I think the excitement and enthusiasm will last for years to come," she said.

And now that the Terrapins are national champs, she expects manufacturers will produce even more turtle paraphernalia. "Who knows what they'll come out with? I'm waiting for an inflatable chair," she said.

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