Having been born and raised in Bethlehem, Pa., I have always been a Philadelphia sports fan -- my No. 1 love has been the Philadelphia Eagles in good times (not many in recent years) and bad. However, during the 1986 season, after living in the Washington metropolitan area for 17 years, I became a true, die-hard Washington Redskins fan.

"Well," you may be asking, "what took you so long?"

It wasn't the back-to-back Super Bowls in 1982 and 1983 or the great 1986 season that captured my heart. To the contrary, I became a Redskins fan because of my personal off-the-field experiences with several members of the team who were giving back to their community the love and commitment so faithfully given them over the years.

It all started last September, when Darrell Green and Darryl Grant agreed to become involved with the Department of Transportation's Partnership in Education Program with Hine Jr. High School on Capitol Hill. I quickly realized that they were truly great athletes and human beings.

As background: President Reagan established the Partnership in Education Program in 1983 as a volunteer effort in which federal agencies "adopt" local schools and work as partners in education with the teachers to benefit the students. DOT, where I work, adopted Hine in 1984, and the relationship between Hine teachers and students and DOT volunteers has become a very special one. My experiences of the past year with the kids at Hine have helped me realize the responsibility we all have to give to our youth the love and support we often do not take the time to express.

When the Redskins joined the DOT/Hine program in 1986, the real winners were the kids. Throughout the school year they had an "up-close and personal" look at their football heroes. The result was inspiring and very touching. It is hard to explain the emotions expressed by the hundreds of kids when Green and Grant ran down the Hine auditorium aisle onto the stage to kick off the 1986-87 partnership program, but I'm sure the roar would have made any Redskins fan proud. I know I was proud to see ear-to-ear smiles on every boy and girl in that auditorium. During the year, Nos. 28 and 77 came back to Hine and DOT to show their commitment to what they told the kids that bright September day: "We are here to support you in your efforts to be the best you can be both in school and in your personal lives."

When Green brought Art Monk and other Redskins to help with the Hine program during the school year, it was obvious that the "fastest man in the NFL" has a special place in his heart for kids, as well as football.

Many of us find it difficult to make time to extend a helping hand to those in need. We find it even harder to express to kids the love in our hearts. But these Redskins have made a difference in the lives of many kids. They have helped them to stay in school and get an education and to say "no" to drugs.

So the next time Green intercepts a game-saving pass or Grant makes a game-saving tackle or Monk catches the winning touchdown pass and we all rise to sing, "Hail to the Redskins," let's not forget that they continue to play an important role in our community when the game is over. -- Joseph A. Capuano Jr.