Grown Man Wears Spandex, Touches Balls ...

The Defuser takes to the court.

Basketballs, that is. Austin's very own superhero, the Defuser, aka Detective Jarrett Crippen of the Austin Police Department, was on court rather than in it today. Crippen, who won Season Two of the Sci-Fi Channel's Who Wants To Be A Superhero? reality television show by transforming himself into a no-deadly-weapons wielding dude in tights, appeared at the Elks Lodge Hoops and Shoots charity event this week at the Cantu Pan American Recreation Center. Kids ages 8 to 13 competed in a free-throw contest in hopes of winning up to $60,000 in scholarships.

And here I always thought it was the police department’s job to keep grown men from wearing spandex in front of children. The enthusiastic Elks Lodger is an unofficial police-to-kid liaison for the Austin Police Department, as Det. Crippen has made it his business to "take part in every kid-type related activity" he can as the Defuser.

I'd only been inside the rec center mere moments this afternoon before I asked the man in black and blue spandex the stupidest question of my journalistic career:

"Are you the Defuser?"

Hey, maybe this guy in spandex with the tactical vest was just stopping in to shoot some hoops, and the real Defuser's sitting in the back sipping a Mojito. Yes, a lesser man would have mocked me. But Det. Crippen puffed up his chest and stuck out his hand.

"I am the Defuser!"

He had some pressing business to attend to involving sitting in front of a computer and asking "Hey, can somebody get in this thing?," so I got the Hoops and Shoots details with help from a fiery headed Elks Lodger named Paula: the free-throw contest's been going on for roundabouts 18 years, 41 kids in Austin have tried out over the past couple of days, and they're expecting more today. The first through third winners in the various age groups, 8 to 9, 10 to 11, and 12 to 13, will move on to a competition in Georgetown, then to the state level, then go national for the big bucks.

When I finally sat down with the Defuser inside the rec center gym, kids were filing in, heavy laden with backpacks bigger than their backs themselves. They plopped down on a mat in front of a television playing the Who Wants To Be A Superhero? DVD, largely unaware that the man on the screen was mere feet from them.

Det. Crippen, who's 38, was anxious to talk about his charity work, raising money for breast cancer research and hoping to start a DARE-like program in Austin schools. I was anxious to hear about Stan Lee, WWTBASH's obligatory Big Celeb. Turns out Lee actually gave the Defuser his name.

"I started out as Take Down, but that was copyrighted by a wrestler," explained the Defuser. So he sat down with Stan, who asked about Crippen's work as a police officer. Ultimately, Stan asked, "It's not all kicking down doors and car pursuits, is it?" Crippen conceded that it wasn't, and the more moderate Defuser was born. The Defuser doesn't use fatal weapons, preferring glue bombs and sleep grenades – though a few might disagree about those taser gloves.

The Defuser's no comic book novice, keeping around 12,000 comic books in his garage. Favorites? Batman and Captain America. As a kid, he drew cartoons all the time and "wanted to be Stan Lee." Meeting the legend and having him knight you as superhero is probably the next best thing. "It was pretty amazing," Crippen conceded.

As skinny girls in ponytails started their first round of free-throw tries, the Defuser set up shop at a table near half court, high-fiving and entertaining a group of boys anxious to meet the guy from the television show. Look for updates tomorrow on the Austin winners' performance in Georgetown.

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