Crouse, Folsom win New England Punt, Pass & Kick event

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bryanne Crouse of Hermon and Molly Folsom of Fairfield wre among 10 youngsters crowned New England Patriots team champions of the 2011 NFL Punt, Pass & Kick contest held Sunday.

The New England competition was held at Gillette Stadium prior to the Patriots’ game against the New York Giants.

Crouse was crowned champion in the girls’ ages 12-13 division, while Folsom was the girls’ 10-11 winner.

Participants advanced from local and sectional competition compete against other athletes representing each state in New England. The New England Patriots Team Championship winners’ scores will be compared to winners from the other NFL team champions to determine qualification for the national competition.

The NFL Punt, Pass & Kick program is a national skills competition for boys and girls between 6 and 15 in five different age divisions involving distance and accuracy punting, passing and place kicking.

UMaine plans football pep rally

ORONO — A pep rally in support of the University of Maine football team will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the university’s Memorial Union Maine Marketplace.

The marching band and cheerleaders will perform in the atrium outside the bookstore, while speakers will include president Paul Ferguson and football coach Jack Cosgrove.

Maine, 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, is ranked 13th nationally and will play its final home game of the regular season at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against the University of Massachusetts.

The rally also will recognize other UMaine sports teams and athletes, including the 16-4 field hockey team that is awaiting word on a possible NCAA tournament berth, and the men’s and women’s cross country teams, which include senior Riley Masters, who won the America East men’s individual championship for the second straight year.

AP source: Cardinals interview Francona

ST. LOUIS — Former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona has interviewed with the St. Louis Cardinals for their manager opening, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.

Francona managed the Red Sox for eight seasons and left after they wasted a nine-game September lead in the AL wild-card race.

St. Louis is seeking a replacement for Tony La Russa, who retired two days after winning his second World Series in 16 seasons with the Cardinals.

More interviews are planned for Wednesday, believed to be with third base coach Jose Oquendo and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryan Sandberg, who managed the Phillies’ Triple-A team last season.

St. Louis previously interviewed Mike Matheny, Joe McEwing and Chris Maloney. Matheny and Maloney have organizational ties and McEwing played for St. Louis.

The 48-year-old Oquendo has been the third base coach the last dozen years. He played his final 10 major league seasons with the Cardinals from 1986-95 when he was nicknamed the “Secret Weapon” as a nod to his versatility.

St. Louis has received permission from the Phillies to talk with Sandberg, ruled out earlier for the managing job with the Cubs, the team he starred for from 1982-97.

After he left the Red Sox, there were reports players drank beer and ate fast food-fried chicken in the clubhouse during games rather than root on their teammates. The Boston Globe reported the club was concerned he was “distracted,” living in a hotel while separated from his wife and taking painkillers to deal with knee operations. Francona has said his personal life did not affect his performance.

Boston ended an 86-year championship drought in 2004, Francona’s first season, when the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the World Series. Francona also managed the Red Sox to a sweep of Colorado in the 2007 Series.

Francona is the second-winningest manager in Red Sox history with a 744-552 record and 8-0 mark in the World Series.

Francona and Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did not respond to requests for comment.

Costas to resurrect live town hall shows with NBC

Bob Costas is resurrecting his live town hall shows.

The new program will premiere in February on the NBC Sports Network.

His old “Costas Now” show had shifted to the live format in his last year with HBO, a setup he relished. But when Costas joined MLB Network in early 2009, he had to leave HBO, which insisted on cable exclusivity.

Now NBC’s desire to bolster the lineup on the cable channel currently known as Versus allows Costas to revive the format. The two-hour “Costas Tonight: Live from the Super Bowl” will air Feb. 2 from Indianapolis and will focus on the state of the NFL.

The network plans to produce four live town halls a year. Each will feature panels of sports figures discussing issues connected to a single theme.

The veteran broadcaster will also host a monthly taped interview show called simply “Costas Tonight,” starting in the spring.

Costas said Tuesday he had no regrets about joining a network dedicated to his favorite sport, but he did miss the opportunities of “Costas Now.”

“There were certain things that HBO did that until now no one else did,” he told The Associated Press.

So the chance to again hold live town halls while maintaining his responsibilities with MLB Network and as NBC’s host for major sporting events was “all perfect as far as I’m concerned.”

Costas predicted the live shows would be skeptical and even critical toward certain trends in sports.

“What HBO did and what we intend to do here is to try to appeal to a relatively thoughtful viewer,” he said.

For the monthly interview shows, he expects the guests are more likely to be league commissioners than star players — unless that player can offer perspective beyond wins and losses.

Versus will be renamed NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2, a product of the Comcast-NBC merger earlier this year.

Giants coach Flannery plays concert for fan Stow

SAN FRANCISCO — Fan Bryan Stow stayed on the minds of the Giants all season as he fought for his life after being brutally beaten outside Dodger Stadium on opening day.

Tim Flannery wants to make sure everybody keeps supporting Stow’s challenging recovery throughout the winter and beyond. San Francisco’s third base coach and offseason musician will bring his band, the Lunatic Fringe, to highly regarded Yoshi’s jazz club in San Francisco on Wednesday night for a concert to benefit Stow. Flannery’s group also will release its 10th album — “The Restless Kind” — that night and give all the money from sales to a fund established for Stow.

The 42-year-old Santa Cruz paramedic and father of two is back in the Bay Area after months spent at a Los Angeles hospital in a medically induced coma.

Nebraska star Cook reaches deal with prosecutors

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska volleyball star Lauren Cook will return to the No. 2-ranked Cornhuskers after reaching an agreement with prosecutors Tuesday that could wipe a felony traffic charge from her record.

The 20-year-old Cook apologized for last month’s traffic accident that left two people injured. She vowed to complete a one-year diversion program that includes community service, avoiding other run-ins with the law and a promise not to drive.

“I truly am very sorry,” Cook said at a news conference at her attorney’s office. “I’ve let a lot of people down — my parents, my teammates and the University of Nebraska. I’ve always worked hard for things in my life, and I’m going to work hard for this. I’m going to work hard to regain the trust, and hope that one day people accept my apology and be able to trust me again as a student, as an athlete and as a driver.”

Cook, the daughter of Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook, spoke shortly after she was charged in Lancaster County Court with leaving the scene of an injury accident.

Her attorney, Terry Dougherty, said prosecutors offered her the opportunity to participate in the pre-trial diversion program. He said he was confident she would start the program within a few days.

Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly said she qualified for diversion because of her otherwise clean criminal record for non-traffic offenses. He said neither drugs nor alcohol were involved and that there was no evidence Cook was using her cell phone at the time of the accident.

Kelly said no one should assume Lauren Cook received preferential treatment because she’s a high-profile volleyball player.

“You would anticipate folks would say that,” he said. “All I can say is that she, by all intents and purposes, appeared to be eligible for pretrial diversion. We’ve honored those guidelines for that program since 1974. We try to run that program in an even-handed manner, whether it’s a case involving someone like this or whether it’s someone no one knows about.”

About 2,500 people in the county go through the diversion program each year, he said.

Prosecutors have the option to refile the charge if she violates terms of the agreement. Dougherty said his client will be forbidden from driving as part of the arrangement.

Lauren Cook sideswiped a motorcycle that was pulled off to the side of a north Lincoln street Oct. 30. The motorcycle driver, Nathaniel Kollars, suffered a broken leg and his passenger had cuts. Cook drove away, but called 911 eight minutes after the accident and, police said, after calling her mother.