IT seems as if everybody's jumping on the youth bandwagon these days. Sports Illustrated's special, youthful spinoff publication, SI for Kids, just celebrated its fifth anniversary, and now Nordic Track, the fitness equipment manufacturer, is introducing a line of exercise products just for youngsters.
This Saturday, ABC Sports hops aboard when it debuts a new program, ``ABC's Wide World of Sports for Kids.'' Children six to 12 years old are the target audience of the four-part series that will be hosted by 12-year-old Maria Sansone, thought to be the youngest sports reporter in the history of network television.
Sansone, a seventh-grader from Erie, Pa., was originally discovered by ABC's affiliate in Erie at a local slam-dunk basketball contest. Last year, she was seen by a national audience during ABC's telecast of the Little League World Series, where she did sideline reporting.
The regular Wide World of Sports is a 90-minute anthology, but the kids' version will be a half hour (12:30-1 p.m. EST, check local listings) and will stick to one sport in each installment. First up is ``Kids on Ice - a Skating Adventure!'' Sansone will co-host the program with 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi. They will take a behind-the-scenes look at the recent United States Figure Skating championship.
Other programs will feature horse racing (June 11), World Cup soccer (July 2), and the Little League World Series (sometime in August).
Touching other bases
* Cross-country skier Bill Koch came up short this year in his attempt to make his fifth United States Olympic team. He is still the only American ever to have won an Olympic Nordic skiing medal -
a silver in the 15-kilometer race in 1976. People remember him for that, but also for being refreshingly homespun and down-to-earth. Olympic glory never meant putting on airs for the Guilford, Vt., native, who once responded to the question ``Have you lived in Vermont all your life?'' by saying, ``Not yet.''
* The National Basketball Association has decided to put its old-timers game, which didn't always resemble serious basketball during its 10-year existence, out to pasture. The ``Legends'' game will be replaced by a Rookie All-Star Game during All-Star Weekend in Minneapolis (Feb. 11-13). The rookie contest, which has divided 16 players into the Phenoms and the Sensations, will showcase newcomers who didn't make the regular All-Star contest.
The Rookie Game (Saturday, TNT, 7 p.m. EST) should help fast-forward the public introduction of some younger stars-in-waiting. Among the participants: Chris Webber, Calbert Cheaney, Jamal Mashburn, Shawn Bradley, and two former members of the 1992 silver-medal-winning Croatian Olympic team, Toni Kukoc and Dina Radja. The All-Star Game will air Sunday on NBC from 6-9 p.m. EST.
* A former American gymnastics publicist, who wishes to remain nameless, is happy to have moved into another sport. The world-class female gymnasts this person worked with were hard to promote as good interviews, since they had so little to say. ``Neat'' was the meager description one star athlete offered of her crowning international achievement. The gymnasts are often book smart, this individual observes, but they lack life experiences.