Four hours into a rally yesterday in support of boycotting the Virginia Beach Laborfest '90, Mark Thompson could see almost 350 students on the Howard University campus.

"We may not have 100,000 people here, but we know that there are not 100,000 people in Virginia Beach," said Thompson, a spokesman for the 14 groups from Washington and Baltimore colleges that organized the boycott.

"There are a lot less of us spending our money there. On that basis, we can declare our boycott a success."

The event yesterday afternoon, called a "Peace Rally," was one of a weekend's worth of alternatives offered to students from Howard, the University of the District of Columbia and the University of Maryland at College Park. Similar alternatives to Virginia Beach were planned in Baltimore, Atlanta and South Carolina.

The local coalition called for a boycott of Virginia Beach after last year's event that ended in violence, with some youths looting stores along the beachfront and police beating youths with nightsticks. About 100,000 people, most of them students, filled the resort city last year.

The call for the boycott has been controversial in some quarters. The Aug. 31 issue of The Hilltop, the Howard student newspaper, urged students to return to Virginia Beach on its editorial page.

"The boycott is a good idea," said Rod Emelle, 22, a senior at Howard. "It's better than going down there to spend our money. We can party with our own people and have just as good a time."

The rally featured several speakers who urged the crowd to support black businesses, to refrain from drug use and to avoid bringing attention to the Ku Klux Klan march planned today in Washington by not participating in counter demonstrations.

Scott Edwards, 20, a Howard junior, said he hoped the boycott is successful. But he said he also wants Virginia Beach officials to know black college students are not afraid to return.

"I know they don't want us there," Edwards said. "What we should have done is go back there but not spend any of our money. We should have taken sandwiches. That would have made them mad."

The coalition has an all-day jazz concert planned for today at UDC and an African festival on Monday at Banneker Field, 800 Euclid St. NW.