Kim Hennigan, a 19-year-old cheerleader for the Buffalo Bills football team ("Last year I was the youngest") had changed from her peekaboo track suit into her disco bathing suit.

She stood on the hot sands of the beach, weeping because she had just lost the JetSki Competition in the Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders. The cameras zoomed in on the tears streaking her sunburnt face.

Later her coach told her not to worry: "They won't use the film. This supposed to be a happy event."

For four days here last week, 32 NFL cheerleaders from across the country were guests of "CBS%@ SPORTS SPECTACULAR" AT THE DIPLOMAT HOTEL. THEY WERE PAID THE AFTRA scale of $275 a day to star in the alleged athletic competition. It was a photogenic skirmish of team against team and conference agsinst conference which will become a minimum of six television shows beginning next fall and ending in Super Bowl week.

On the first day, each cheerleader was fitted for an athletic wardrobe which the producers said was worth about $600. "It's lie Christmas," said Shauna Sullivan of the L.A. Rams, an aspiring actress who recently got a bit part on "Charlie's Angels." "They are treating us like royalty."

The wardrobe included roller skates, running shoes, bathing suits and track suits. The tracksuits were slit on the side of both tops and bottoms, which would not discreetly accommodate regular underwear, came with built-in triangular panties."

"I had the concept for the show a couple of mlnths ago," said Shelly Saltman - the producer of Evel Knievel's motorcycle jump over Snake River Canyon, later assautled by Knievel - who along with sports director Tony Verna co-produced the show.

"Last year the NFL cheerleaders had a bad image because various bad apples posed nude in some magazines. Everybody thought they were T&A," Saltman said. "To me and Tony they are T&A all right: terriffic and all-American."

Tony Verna, who has directed Super Bowls and Kentucky Derbys, and the man who pioneered instant replay, strolled on the cooling sands close to sundown after a day of filming. "Of course there's an element of jiggly in this," he said. "There would have to be. That's the nature of a woman's anatomy."

It was a competition for which the athletes had virtually no time to train. "We were told it was going to happen two weeks ago, and were told of the events one week before," said Beth Worlund of the Atlanta Falcons.

The athletes were filmed combing their hair, applying make-up in cabanas and cavorting in bikinis through the salty surf.

The very nature of the events was redefined on location and the rules were changed during the filming. It was never even clear what the prizes would be. At times, cruises, resort vacations, cash awards of $750 to the winner, and gold Cartier watches were mentioned. The cheerleaders didn't care. "It's enough of a prize just being here," said one.

"Trashsport," said Eddie Einhorn, 43, executive producer of "CBS Sports Spectacular." "Call it what you want. The appetite for this sort of show is insatiable. Maybe the audience likes to see the human side of people in public. That's the only way I can analyze the appeal."

Whatever the appeal, "trashport" - or ersatz athletic competitions - have been enormously successful. The first such show was introduced by ABC in 1973. Invented by Dick Button, "ABC Superstars" featured real athletes involved in competition outside their speciality. ABC later fielded "Super Teams," "The Women's Superstars," "World Superstars" and "Battle of the Network Stars."

For its part, CBS aired "Challenge of the Sexes" and "Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes." NBC claims that the network will not air "manufactured-for-television sports."

One of the most recent, ABC's "Battle of the Network Stars," which aired May 7, drew a hefty 39 percent share of the national audience. And according to Saltman, CBS' "Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes" did better than "Roots II" in the Nielsens.

But if celebrity sports are successful, they are especially so when attractive young women are involved. On Jan. 6 and 13 of this year, "CBS Sports Spectacular" presented two 15-minute segments of NFL cheerleaders doing their dance routines. According to Rich Podolsky of CBS Sports, the "ratings increased more than usual during the segments, and then dropped off. It took another 30 minutes to build them up again.

"The NFL started it by giving us the girls. Dallas made them the envy of the other teams. Television enhanced it by doing close-ups. And there would be nothing to do closeups of if the girls were not dressed sexually."

Podolsky agrees with the ABC sportscaster who summed it up last year: "America likes a little sex with its violence."

Ken Stein, stage manager of the show, in shorts and T-shirt and a hat, stood on the beach Tuesday afternoon; behind him a fleet of eight Kawasaki JetSkis. "Don't be afraid of them," one cheerleader told another, "They're just like snowmobiles, except they go on water."

Stein had heard the rumors of fear. He lifted a megaphone to his parched lips: "Listen up, girls, listen up.

"You are in no danger. If you fall off the JetSki, do this so we'll know you are all right," he said, patting the side of his head twice. "If you don't, we'll know you're not all right."

As several cheerleaders practised the gesture, Stein stressed that "anyone who is scared to death is a hazard to herself and to others. This is not a macho contest. Only guys can get away with that."

There were five athletic events. Originally, the swimming competition was conceived of as a sort of special Olympics for pretty girls, measuring quality of kick rather than strength of stroke. Each contestant was supposed to clutch a big bright beach ball, head above water, kicking it across the pool on her stomach. The camera would dwell on the cadence of their thighs. And the cheerleaders wouldn't even have to get their hair wet.

"We were embarrassed," said Judy Kirtland of the Houston Oilers. "We prepared for a real swimming event. We practiced dives and breathing."

"It was a gimmick," said Tony Verna, shrugging. "They didn't like it. So we got rid of it."

The 50-yard football relay on the beach was changed to 100 yards, reportedly to expand the amount of running time. The promised kayak competition turned into a rubber raft.

JetSkis and roller-skating remained pretty much as expected.

There was a great deal of confusion over whether the contestants had to toot a horn at the end of JetSki or merely touch a pole. One heat was run three times. "At a man's event," said Chris Sullivan, coach-chaperone of the Buffalo Jills, "You can bet the rules would have been much clearer."

The cheerleaders represented eight teams in the American Football Conference and eight teams in the National Football Conference. Some were chosen because of athletic ability and others, such as the two from the L.A. Rams, were "next in line for an outside job" from a list kept by the team. Notably missing from the line-up were the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders, who reportedly declined to compete. The others, almost to a one, explained Dallas' absence this way:

"If you don't compete, you don't take a chance of losing."

By the final day of filming, it was down to two teams.

Representing the AFC were two lithe blond Miami Dolphin cheerleaders - known as the Star Brights (the only NFL squad to be named after a commercial product, an automobile polish). Shelly Saltman said the pair represented the ideal of "what every father wants his daughter to look like." "Central casting," Tony Verna called it.

Lori Rhodenbaugh, 24, who sells condominiums: "I was Miss Ft. Lauderdale in 1977, but also in that pageant I was voted Miss Congeniality, which was an even bigger honor."

Her teammate, Roberta Davis, 22: "I want to lead a normal life, stay down to earth. Cheerleads are not just a sex symbol, but much more than that. We have to work out the technical ways of keeping people enthusiastic."

The Florida blonds squared off against two teen-aged Minnesota Viking brunettes. "Stoic," said Tony Verna, "like their team: The ice-women cometh." The other cheerleaders said "youth" was Minnesota's big advantage and took to calling them "the kids."

Eve Bearman, 17, with freckles and short-cropped hair, said that during the week she filled out so many W-2 forms that for the first time in her life she knew her Social Security number by heart.

"When me and Pam [her teammate] went down to dinner the first night we felt really low," Bearman said. "All these people with their curly hair and make-up. They looked like cheerleaders. We're more into dancing and not showing off what we have. Me, personally, that kind of thing bothers me, to think that for me to get anywhere I have to show off my body."

She and Pam Swiggum, 16, the youngest competitor, were coached and chaperoned by Pam's mother. While other cheerleaders planned to disco in the evening, Pam and Eve asked Mrs. Swiggum if they could order take-out pizza and eat it in their room.

At dinner on the night before the finals, Saltman orchestrated the equivalent of a pre-game pep talk. He told the Cheerleaders, "Tomorrow, we'll be calling it Cheerleader Superbowl. We'll even be playing the Minnesota and Miami fight song. After wards we'd like you to put on your track suits, which are really cool. Then you'll do some promos. You'll be truly building up enthusiasm for your own show through promos."

"Oh how nice," said several of the cheerleaders.

Eddie Einhorn then addressed the group: "I've been involved with a lot of people in sports shows, but this has been a real favorite because of the enthusiasm of all you gals. I never hide the ball, and I'm not kidding you kids when I say that last year there was a lot of publicity about you, a lot of it negative. This is a very sensitive area, but I want to say right now that this show has been so successful that we are making it the First Annual Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders."

A raised hand in the audience.

"Yes, honey."

"Does this mean there'll be a second annual?"

"A second annual and a third annual on down the line. Whenever I do anything, it's for longevity. Just ask my wife."

By the final day, many were nursing their injuries, which included pulled hamstrings, scratched corneas, abrasions on the thigh. Many wore elastic bandages. "It's quite an injury list," said Saltman. "It's because they're not in shape."

Shaking pompons in their outfits which ranged from the modest turtle-necks of the Redskins to the bare belly buttons of the Denver Broncos, they urged on their divisions.

For Cindy Parr of the Washington Redskins, it was the best day. "We don't have to compete.We're doing what we do best. We just have to cheer our brains out."

Minnesota beat Florida in the swimming. Florida beat Minnesota at roller-skating, but Lori Rhodenbaugh pulled a groin muscle when she skated into a CBS cameraman. There was an hour's wait while the rules were changed because Lori could not run in the track event.

Florida won the rubber raft race.

It was a photo finish in track. Pam Swiggum's chest crossed the finish line first. Then, rasping, "I can't breathe," Pam fell into a heap on the sand. CBS filmed her fall. She recovered within minutes.

The last event was the JetSki: Eve Bearman against Roberta Davis. Davis won. Someone shouted, "Home ocean advantage." A flock of cheerleaders ran into the water to console Bearman.

The show was deemed such a success that by the last day of filming CBS was talking about airing the final segment in prime time.

Before the victory party that evening - a private disco event for CBS executives and cheerleaders - Gary Bender, who along with Jayne Kennedy provided the voice-over commentary, said he was amazed by how competitive the event actually was.

"I'll tell you honestly," he said, "it's a shame somebody has to lose." CAPTION: Picture 1, At the cheerleader competition, Missy Garramone of the Broncos; Picture 2, Redskinettes Cindy Parr, left, and Cathy Hoggarty; Picture 3, the Dolphins' Lori Rhodenbaugh after roller-skating finals; Picture 4, Pam Swiggum, front, at the swimming competition. Photos by Al Messerschmidt for The Washington Post.; Picture 5, Lori Rhodenbaugh warms up for roller-skating; by Al Messerschmidt for The Washington Post