Mike Lupica, sports columnist for the New York Daily News and bestselling children’s author, has signed with Philomel Books to write a new middle-grade series called Comeback Kids. The first two novels, Hot Hand and Two-Minute Drill, will debut in September. There is a 75,000-copy first printing for each title.

Philomel plans to publish two books a year in the series through 2009. Lupica will also publish The Big Field in March 2008, a young adult baseball novel that will not be part of the new series.

“We know that Mike Lupica’s books were having huge success,” Michael Green, v-p/publisher of Philomel Books told PW. “We knew that because of his background in sportswriting and on TV that he had huge crossover appeal. So we thought it was time to offer something for the kids.

According to Green, “Matt Christopher had been ruling that roost for as long as anyone could remember. I know that there had been other series that had come and gone that tried to knock [Christopher] off his perch, but we thought that this was the right time. We knew we could hit a younger audience as well and that we could offer something contemporary to compete with Matt Christopher.”

Philomel is co-publishing with Walden Media, which holds an option on Lupica’s Heat [Bobby Moresco of Crash fame has already authored a screenplay]. “They will be running marketing campaigns with us,” says Green. “We’ll be using all their outreach. They’re talking to really big name sponsors.” Walden Media will also have first dibs on movie rights to the series, Green says. “It’s a first and last option. They have the right of first negotiation to turn these into film of any kind, whether it is motion picture or direct-to-DVD or TV.”

Penguin Young Readers Group is sponsoring a “Write Like Mike” National Consumer Contest. The contest will be announced in the October issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids, asking kids to write their own sports column and send it in. A winner will be chosen at the end of November. The winner’s column will be featured in an issue of SI for Kids and $1,000 worth of sports equipment will be donated to the winner’s school.

Lupica’s young adult novels—Travel Team, Miracle on 49th Street, Summer Ball and Heat">—have sold over one million copies combined in hardcover and paperback.