For Robert Budway, watching his Lincoln Junior High School gymnastics team lose would be a sign of progress.

Eight years ago, Budway started the District's first competitive gymnastics program and his Northwest Washington school has ruled the area by capturing the city championship (which includes high schools) in each of the eight seasons.

"I'm waiting for more schools to move from their inertia because there are a lot of kids waiting on the side," said Budway, 49. "It's beginning to be embarrassing. Like last year, we had 99 points in the city championships and the next school had eight."

In this year's March 25 championships, Budway was encouraged by the stiff challenge received from Wilson High School and Deal Junior High School, both of Northwest Washington. However, he has seen other schools field strong teams without being able to sustain a standard of excellence.

"The junior high school (program) is moving - it could be better," said Budway, who lives at 3338 Upland Terr. NW. "There's not much I can say about the high schools. The only high school with a sponsor willing to work with the kids is Wilson."

Budway keeps close contact with the girls gymnastics program at MacFarland Junior High School in Northwest Washington, started four years ago by Cheryl Odom and Castle Pruitt. MacFarland now has eight girls on its squad in what is D.C.'s most successful program for girls.

William Johnson, the gymnastics coach at Howard University, said, "Mr. Budway has quite a gymnastics program. I have quite a few of his boys over here. They're all top-notch, too. They're very motivated."

While Budway runs a junior high school program, his practices are open to anyone interested in working. Several of his former students return to his three-times-a-week sessions.

Tyrone Washington, 17, of 1439 Chapin St. NW, returns from Wilson to work with Budway. Washington, who likely will attend Howard after he graduates in June, placed first in the bars and floor exercise, and second in all other events in the recent city championships.

Washington, who three years ago was interested in gymnastics by Budway, said, "If you're not doing football or basketball or something like that, you're not a sport in D.C. We need more teachers, better competition, more exposure to outside competition."

Budway doesn't restrict his discipline to his hour practice sessions. He requires his students to behave in school if they are to participate after school.

Budway said his group is ready to move into outside competition. "I and Mrs. Odom are going to be concentrating on age development," he explained. "We are going to join the PVAAU (Potomac Valley Amateur Athletic Association). We are going to attend the seminars and learn all the compulsory (exercises). We hope to start communicating and start competition around the Beltway community."

Budway draws his gymnastics knowledge from native Czechloslavkia where the sport receives great emphasis, but he actually learned to coach gymnastics at the YMCA on G Street NW after he came to Washington 25 years ago.

"I would really think I would be the last one people would think would become a gymnastics coach," he said.