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Teen's pickle turns into "Tonight' fun

(ran NS S editions of Tampa Bay & State)

Last week, it was a quarter-pound cheeseburger and youthful rebellion that got Ian Shaw noticed by readers in Tampa Bay.

Monday, it was a phone call from Tonight Show host Jay Leno.

It made the 15-year-old momentarily famous among 5-million viewers nationwide.

Why, you ask? Skipping school _ and admitting it.

Shaw made local news last Tuesday when he was featured in a Times article as the first customer at a new Wendy's in East Lake. Before scarfing down his semi-historic meal, the youth mentioned he was skipping classes at East Lake High School.

The story quickly made the rounds at the high school, said Shaw, a sophomore: "It got read in one of the classes. The teachers thought I was pretty stupid, but I guess the kids liked it."

Then a Times reader sent the story to Leno. The rest, as they say, is television history.

During a regular routine in which Leno pokes fun at headlines, errors and oddities from newspapers around the country, he brought up the Times story and Shaw's remarks.

Then he got the youth on the phone _ and on the air:

Leno: "Hello, Is this Ian? Oh, hi. This is Jay Leno with the Tonight Show. . . . Now, why did you tell the reporter you were skipping school?

Shaw: "I dunno, I guess to be in the paper."

Leno: "Just to be in the paper? Oh, I see, this is kind of a Tonya Harding-style mistake. You know, Ian, NEVER talk to the media . . ."

Apparently, that's just what prompted Tarpon Springs attorney Bill Vinson, 43, to send the article to Leno:

"I thought it was pretty humorous that this fellow told a reporter he was skipping school. To me, it seems that is one person who shouldn't be skipping school."

Vinson said it is the second article he has sent Leno. The first never aired, and he doubted Ian Shaw's story would, either.

But Leno had other plans. After reading the letter, he had his staff track down the wayward youth.

"Jay just thought it was funny," said Stephanie Ross, a Tonight Show segment producer. "He said, "Steph, try to find this kid. I'd really like to talk to him.' "

A half-day's worth of phone calls later, Ross had Shaw and his mother lined up on the phone at their home in Palm Harbor.

At first, Shaw thought the call was a joke. Then he heard Leno's voice.

"I guess I am famous," Shaw said. "They put me on live. I could hear the audience going crazy in the background."

After razzing the youth about getting caught and sentenced to a day in Saturday School, Leno had Shaw pass the phone to his mother, Carol Kellett.

Leno: "You must be very proud of your son . . ."

Turns out, Kellett is a teacher at another school. She said she learned of her son's truancy at work. She was not surprised.

Kellett: "You have to know Ian, it's just so typical. But I grounded him. . ."

After making sure the youth had not been grounded from fast food establishments, Leno even promised to send him $100 worth of Wendy's coupons.

He will need them. Shaw said he has not been back to Wendy's, but not for lack of hunger: "I haven't had any money or else I would have gone there."