Mike DeBonis wrote yesterday about Vinny Schiraldi leaving DC. He was head of the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

I only dealt with Schiraldi in 2005, when he was new to town, and I was doing a story on the football team at Oak Hill Youth Center, the city’s only maximum security prison for juveniles. Even my limited exposure to Schiraldi was enough to let me know that he cared about his job, and the city. I haven’t followed his career closely, but from what I’ve read over the last few years, that wasn’t enough to fix the system.

Oak Hill is as depressing a place as I’ve ever been for work. Mostly because I realized the obvious right away: The inmates were KIDS.

I was at Oak Hill to cover a game between the prison team and Wilson’s J.V. squad. And all the young folks on the Oak Hill team, some of whom I was told by prison officials were murderers and rapists and armed robbers, looked and acted exactly like the kids on the other side of the field, who’d never been accused of such dirty deeds.

This was a sporting event like no other I’d ever been to. The Wilson kids were playing for a spot in the 2005 DCIAA J.V. football championship. The Oak Hill kids were playing for a day out of jail, since the title game was to be played at Cardozo the following week.

(AFTER THE JUMP: Watkins Hornets going to Disney? Is Savon Felder famous yet? Should we pity Jerry Gray? How much? Mark Plotkin accuses Washington Post of anti-Colonialism?)

Oak Hill had earned a spot in the J.V. championship a year earlier, also, but the warden, Schiraldi’s predecessor, had refused to let his team leave the prison grounds to play in the big game. When Schiraldi took over Oak Hill, he declared early that he was going to emphasize sports as a way of rehabilitating the kids, and told the football team that if they were invited to the title game, no matter where it was played, he’d make sure they showed up.

Again, whatever their rap sheets said, Schiraldi cared about the Oak Hill kids. He wanted them all out of Oak Hill.

Vinny was going to change things. He told me so, and he meant it.

“It’s like a concentration camp,” he said during an interview at the Oak Hill/Wilson game. “It’s a Turkish prison here. This isn’t a place for kids. I want somebody to knock this down, pour salt on this earth, and hope nothing grows on this evil land.”

After the game, in which the prison team whupped up on Wilson, Schiraldi walked onto the field to congratulate the Oak Hill squad. The players were huddled around their coach at that moment, but when they saw Schiraldi approaching the kids broke out in a big cheer: “Vinny! Vinny! Vinny!” Everybody was as happy as happy gets. I was emotionally a wreck by that point in the day, but that was a scene I’ll never forget.

Moments later Oak Hill guards rounded the team up and an announcement came over the prison P.A. that it was time for the players to go back to their “units.” I’ll never forget that, either.

***

A happier tale of D.C. kids and football: The Watkins Hornets Pee Wees, a team of 9-to-11 year olds under the wing of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, earned a spot in this weekend’s Pop Warner National Championships.

In the national semis, played in Toms River, N.J., Watkins defeated a squad from Silver Spring powerhouse White Oak (that’s the football club that provided the kids in the vintage Under Armour commercials) in overtime on a 1-yard plunge by running back Kortez Calloway.

(I watched Watkins teams play last season, and left the game sure that a 125-pound kid named Savon Felder was going to be a superstar. Where are you, Savon?)

In the title game, Kortez Calloway (If that ain’t a star’s name, what is?) and Watkins will face the Southfield Falcons of the Mid-America Region in Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Buena Vista, Fl.

Congrats, Watkins!

And congrats, DPR! Especially John Stokes, the fabulous communications dude for the agency, who feels Cheap Seats Daily only writes about DPR when, well, the chips are down. We love good news, John! Bad news too!

Butt seriously: The youth football program run by DPR, in cooperation with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW), is amazing. And the DC area, not coincidentally, has the strongest Pop Warner teams in the country year after year.

***

Skins defensive backs coach Jerry Gray almost got out. He was going to be named head coach of Memphis State football, according to all sorts of reports last week.

But, Gray’s ticket outta town and away from the Dysfunction Junction known as Redskins Park was instead given to LSU assistant coach Larry Porter.

Gray had to take over media duties pro bono earlier this season when defensive coordinator Greg Blache weirded out. And this week, Gray gets to watch as his starting cornerbacks tandem of Justin Tryon and Carlos Rogers tries to stop Drew Brees and the undefeated New Orleans Saints.

***

No. 1 ranked local political pundit Mark Plotkin was real mad last week about the non-coverage of GW’s win over Princeton. There was no write-up of his alma mater’s game in the edition of Washington Post that he got, Plotkin told me. All he could find was a teensy line score.

“Like a high school!” Plotkin said.

According to Washingtonpost.com, there was some mention of the GW/Princeton game on D4 of at least some Post editions, but only at the bottom of this multi-game summary from AP, far beneath several grafs about Notre Dame’s big win over Kennesaw State :

GEORGE WASHINGTON 65, PRINCETON 50: Bryan Bynes paced a balanced attack with 13 points and the host Colonials closed the game on a 16-6 run to defeat Princeton.

Maryland and Georgetown would never suffer such an attention deficit. Plotkin predicted the sports section would fake enthusiasm for GW’s undefeated team and give all sorts of ink for the then-upcoming game against Oregon State. “Only because of Obama,” he said

I told him I’d air his gripes if the GW/OSU game did get lots of ink from the sports section, not just the political people. Well, Plotkin was right: The Post even ran a large preview for the Oregon State visit in Sports, plus scads of photos and column inches reporting the intruders victory.

Even without Obama courtside, GW’s next two games should get write-ups, too: Tomorrow night the Colonials host George Mason, and this weekend face Navy in the always well-hyped BB&T Classic.

So the test of Plotkin’s non-coverage charge will come with next week’s game vs. Providence. If that only gets a line score or plays second fiddle to a Kennesaw State game, turn your radio dial to 103.5 FM and take in the rage.