For more than eight hours Monday, a nylon cord tied the toddler in the yellow terrycloth romper to a tree in the woods near Branch Avenue SE. The temperature soared toward 90 degrees, then a thunderstorm drenched the area, then darkness fell -- and still it was two more hours before 18-month-old Alicia Washington was finally rescued by police officers and the unlikely crisis intervention team of Sugar Ray and Juanita Leonard.

"I felt so damned good, and I'll tell you what -- so did Sugar Ray and so did his wife. You see so much hurt out here, it felt good to win one for a change," said D.C. police vice squad Sgt. Leon Swain, who negotiated for more than five hours with a distraught man who demanded a talk with the boxing champion before leading police to the child.

Leonard said through a spokesman yesterday that he did not want to discuss the incident for fear of encouraging others to make similar demands for attention from public figures in hostage or kidnaping situations.

"It was not an heroic act at all. And he really didn't want to have any interviews concerning this whatsoever, because he didn't want to encourage any listeners or viewers or readers to try something similar," said Charlie Brotman, Leonard's publicist. "He just did what he had to do as a citizen and that was basically it."

But police had nothing but praise for Leonard and his wife Juanita, who rushed across town to help free the girl.

Swain recalled reaching Leonard in his Potomac home late Monday and explaining that a man in Southeast Washington had apparently abducted a child and refused to talk to police but wanted to talk to Leonard.

"There was no hesitation, no hemming and hawing about the whole thing when I told him we were looking for an 18-month-old baby, no 'What's in it for me?' Juanita was on the extension phone and she said, 'Ray, I'm coming, too,' " Swain said. "He walked in, shook his hand, hugged the guy. Juanita hugged him, and Sugar said, 'I'm here to help you, man.' "

Tony Hale Spaulding, a 27-year-old former firefighter with a long history of drug abuse, was charged with kidnaping in the incident, which police said may have been sparked by drugs and a quarrel with the child's mother. Spaulding was being held in the D.C. Jail last night in lieu of $5,000 bond. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for June 10.

The girl's mother, Mary A. Battle, who lives with Spaulding at 3520 T St. SE, could not be reached for comment. Alicia was held overnight for observation at Greater Southeast Community Hospital and released to her mother yesterday afternoon.

More than 60 police officers, three canine units and a U.S. Park Police helicopter combed the woods and neighborhoods near Pennsylvania and Branch avenues SE after Battle reported her daughter missing shortly after 2 p.m. Monday.

When Spaulding led police to Alicia about 10:15 that night, the little girl was sitting, quiet and wet, beneath a tree to which she was tied. She rested her head on the shoulder of an officer who untied her, picked her up and carried her out of the dark woods, police said.

Swain said he entered the apartment about 5 p.m., sat on the floor with Spaulding -- who wore a white T-shirt with a picture of Leonard on the front -- and began to listen to his "rantings" about boxing, bike riding and his love of children. When Detective Charles Porter, who resembles boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler, entered the room, Spaulding became agitated, Swain said. Spaulding's reaction to Porter triggered the idea of involving Leonard, as darkness fell and police had not found the child, Swain said.

"I said, 'You know Sugar wouldn't like this,' and his eyes lit up. All of a sudden, he was like a kid in a toy store. He said, 'You know Sugar, you know Sugar. I'll tell him {Alicia's location} when he gets here face-to-face,' " Swain recounted. "It was dark . . . as we headed into the woods and Tony {Spaulding} started shaking. He was starting to get very, very erratic. I was worried about Sugar and his wife, and especially the little girl."