David MacDonald Rankin, a former College Park Boy Scout leader, pleaded guilty yesterday in a Prince George's County court to eight counts of child abuse for having members of his troop perform sex acts with him.

Rankin, 28, who was scoutmaster of Troop 740 at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church for five years until his arrest in May, stood straight with his hands at his sides while Circuit Court Judge G.R. Hovey Johnson read the charges stemming from Rankin's sexual contact with eight teen-aged scouts.

His only dispute was with some of the dates of the offenses provided by Assistant State's Attorney Thomas McManus. Rankin admitted that the dozens of incidents occurred, just as he did when county investigators first questioned him in May.

"I really don't know how all of this got started," Rankin told police, according to a statement McManus read in court yesterday. "I must have been sick or something to let it get started."

McManus said that Rankin told his victims that the sexual acts were part of an initiation ceremony into a special group within the troop called "The Rowdies." The chosen scouts, the prosecutor said, were required to remove their clothes and masturbate.

Rankin was arrested May 11, after the father of one of the victims notified officials of the National Capital Area Council Boy Scouts of America that Rankin had molested his son.

About six months earlier, McManus said, the father had arrived earlier than planned to pick up his son from what he thought was a regularly scheduled troop meeting. Instead, McManus said, the father found that there was not a meeting at the church hall.

"He looked through a basement window and saw his son with his pants down and what appeared to be {Rankin} playing with his son's genital area," McManus said.

Later, when the father asked his son about the incident, McManus said, the son denied for several months that anything had happened.

As part of the plea agreement, Rankin will plead guilty to three additional counts of child abuse in Charles County, according to his attorney, Joseph DePaul. For all 11 cases, Rankin could be sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison.

"He agreed that he was guilty," DePaul said, "and he felt that he was getting what he believed was a fair sentencing recommendation from the state."

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8.

Shortly after the publicity generated by the case involving Rankin, the National Capital Area Council Boy Scouts of America formed a committee to review the case and similar ones that have occurred in the Washington area during the past several years.

Its report, which will include recommendations on preventing similar incidents, is expected to be complete in about two weeks.