Retired welterweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard and his son Ray Jr. visited Children's Hospital yesterday "to spread the Christmas spirit" and help patients "forget their illnesses just for a moment."

Leonard signed autographs for several teen-agers who have been in the hospital for weeks. "Sometimes doctors can only do so much through medical treatment," Leonard said. "People have to help motivate each other to keep pushing."

Dressed casually in a shirt and blue jeans, with a gold crucifix around his neck, Leonard shook hands and talked to the patients in the adolescent unit.

Leonard said he was "just trying to show them that someone cared." What is important "to the sick is not that I'm a star. It's that someone cares. I want to give them that fighting spirit, that motivation to keep going strong and keep pushing for better health."

Visiting the sick is a regular event for the 27-year-old Palmer Park native who now lives in the affluent Potomac area with his wife, Juanita, and sons, Ray Jr., 10, and Jarrel, 6 months.

When Leonard kissed Crystal Clark on the right cheek, the 17-year-old patient, who is a student at Logan Community School in Northwest Washington, squealed with joy. "Ooooh! Sugar Ray kissed me. Stars. I see stars."

Nathaniel Ewing, 16, clutched an autographed poster he received from the champion that depicted the heralded boxer slugging challenger Tommy Hearns with a left uppercut to the head. Meeting Leonard "was really uplifting," Ewing said, smiling.

William Davis, who has been "in and out of the hospital" for several years and, at 22, is the oldest patient in the unit, said, "We get a lot of celebrities, but he's different. He's just so personable. It's good that he brought his son with him. That gave his visit a family atmosphere."

Few youngsters bothered to take any of the chocolate chip cookies or other refreshments that were on a table in the recreation room of the unit, apparently because most were preoccupied with trying to get near Leonard and Ray Jr. to shake their hands and say hello.

Standing near the table, Kali Douglas, 13, watched as Leonard and his son left. "I'm glad he came. He made me feel better," said Douglas, wearing a red and white button that had a smiling face on it and the motto, "I'm Sugar Ray's Friend."

Clean-cut and lean, Leonard, who suffered a detached retina before he retired this year, added, "I, my wife Juanita, and my son are committed to doing things like this. God has given me a talent. This is one way I can give something back. This is from my heart."