Two flights down, in a dank, roach-infested basement, 8-year-old Terry Lee steadied a splintered cue -- an impish D.C. slim, eyeing his final shot on a ripped felt table.
He drew back and stroked. "Eight goin' downtown ," he cooed, and the ball slid into the corner pocket. "I the baddest, ain't I officer?"
Antoinette Alston, a D.C. police officer assigned as supervisor of Police Boys and Girls Club 12, smiled and shook her head.
"We do a lot for these kids," she said, looking past the dozen or so busy children and out over the airless church basement at 2421 Lawrence St. NE that serves 1,200 members. "We're helping them to grow up right."
"But think of what we could do with a decent building, one without leaks and rats and roaches and recycled equipment . . . I don't know what would happen if all our members showed up at once."
Alston's complaint is a familiar one -- a frustrated call for help echoed in the undersized halls and broken-down meeting rooms in all 10 of the District's boys and girls clubs.
Administrators of the 45-year-old program say they understand the problems and have collected $1.5 million in a drive to raise $5 million for eight new clubhouses. Ground for the first clubhouse, an $800,000 structure at 14th and Clifton streets NW, should be broken by November, but new homes for all the clubs' 22,000 members will be at least 10 years in coming.
So, for now, Alston said, "We're trying to do the best we can with what we have."
Recent visits to area clubs showed that too often that is too little.
Club 13 meets in a rat- and roach-in-fested basement room in an apartment building at 251 V St. NE. More than 1,250 members belong to the club.
Club 4's meeting room is in the basement of a high-rise slum. It smells strongly of urine, and rents for $6,000 a year. The club has 1,000 members.
The crumbling, abandoned school at 128 M St. NW, which rents for $16,000 a year.
The meeting room for Club 11, the pride of the boys and girls club fleet and the only facility owned by the police department, floods when it rains.
And so on.
While most parents and club boosters are quick to point out the virtues of a program that was designed to provide guidance and motivation to Washington's children, some parents say they object to conditions in some of the meeting places.
"Yeah, my boy wanted to join the club at one time," said Minnie Simpson, who lives near the LeDroit Park apartment project where Club 13 meets. "But I went down there and looked it over and decided he didn't need to be going in a place like that.
"It's like a closet in there -- no air, no room to move around. What (does) he need with a place like that?"
And because all but one of the facilities are rented, club supervisors say that they must limit their programs to conform to the wishes of the landlords.
"Some days, when the church wants to have a luncheon or something, we can't open at all," officer Alston at Club 12 said. "I'll get here, and there will be all these little kids waiting outside the door. When I tell them we can't open today, they cry sometimes. I feel bad for them."
The programs, which are administered by the D.C. Police Department's youth division, are staffed by officers who are assigned to the clubs as their only job and by other officers who volunteer.
The director of the programs, Lt. Frederick L. Fisher, speaks philosophically about the problems of the program.
"Where else do the kids have to go? They'll be back in the street getting in trouble. We can't wring our hands and let the whole club go down the drain just because the facilities are not what we'd like them to be. We have to use the resources avaiable to us."
One of those resources is officers like Larry Jewell. Although he now works behind a desk at the First District police headquarters in Southwest, he volunteers more than 20 hours a week at Club 4, in the Southwest neighborhood where he walked a beat for 1 1/2 years.
On a recent Monday afternoon, just a few blocks from the affluent Southwest waterfront, Jewell walked the short way from Club 4 to the Anthony Bowen Elementary School gymnasium. School was out for the day, and the street corners were ghetto-full. At the intersection of M Street and Delaware Avenue SW, a group of high school boys gathered close, jiving and juking to the beat of a portable radio and passing a marijuana cigarette.
"When they have the boys clubs," said Jewell, 31, "they don't need the street corner."
"Inside the gym, Jewell continued, "We give them an outlet. They play sports on our teams, go on trips to ballgames and shows, play pool and pingpong or just watch TV.
"We stress character and discipline with a touch of class. They learn that they are someone . . . and when you believe in yourself, you can hold your head high and make out in this world," Jewel said.
As Jewell spoke, kids drifted into the gym. Without a word from their coach, basketball games formed on both sides of the court, 10-year-olds and younger on one side, older kids on the other. As the noise level rose, groups of boys and girls formed in the corners, catching up on the latest gossip and renewing flirtations.
Tony Chord, a street-wise 16-year-old who lives in an N Street apartment, sat alone against the bleachers. "Some people say it ain't cool to be in the club," said the youth who wore grey, cut-off sweat pants and a floppy terrycloth hat. "But I got a brother doin' one to five (years) at Lorton (Reformatory)."
"My mother don't want me hangin' on the corner. So I hang here and play ball. It ain't bad. I got friends, and our team gonna do pretty good this year, probably take it all. And I'll be playing guard, popping from 20 (feet.) It's all right, I guess."
"We're giving these kids chance," said Jewell, popping a Lifesaver and a cigarette into his mouth. "But I know that if we had a better facility we would have more members, be able to reach more kids. We could have shop classes and our own gym and field . . ."
But for now, the clubs' $650,000 a year budget -- of which $165,000 comes from the United Way and the rest from public donations -- only goes so far, Fisher said.
Meanwhile, said the pool-playing Terry Lee, "it's bad sometimes, like when it rains, but I like it here. I come every day after school and play pool and watch TV and talk a lot and stay until dark. Ain't nowhere else to go really.