At the church picnic two weeks before he was shot to death, Ronald Jones Jr. was throwing a football to some younger church members. The Rev. Kirk Monroe could not conceal his pride. Ron was a quarterback for Norfolk State College -- and had just been admitted to the Howard University Law School.

"He can hit you with the ball," Monroe shouted to the youths. "But he also hits the books."

An irate driver had cut in front of Ron's car on Massachusetts Avenue NW near Union Station on the night of Friday the 13th in July. Ron shouted for the driver to watch where he was going; the driver pulled a gun and killed him, sped away and is still at large.

"The dead will have no rest until we do something," Monroe preached from the pulpit of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Georgetown.

Then he called Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), in whose office Ron had worked as an intern.

"My idea was for the senator to contact former athletes like Senator Bill Bradley {D-N.J.} and {HUD Secretary} Jack Kemp and ask them to persuade the national athletic leagues to air public service announcements against violence," Monroe said.

Michael Beard, director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, agreed and began helping Monroe draft letters to other members of Congress.

"Our children are buying sneakers endorsed by the athletes," Monroe said. "They buy expensive sweat suits endorsed by them. They even wear their hair like them. They are the voices of authority for our youth."

Frieda Burling, wife of Edward Burling, of the law firm Convington & Burling, liked Monroe's idea. The Burlings live across the street from Monroe's church and visit him from time to time. Frieda Burling delivered a letter from Monroe to Paul Tagliabue, who had worked at the law firm before his appointment as commissioner of the National Football League.

Ideally, Monroe would have preferred to use his skills as a man of the cloth to minister directly to those youths who are wreaking so much havoc on the city. He would show them better ways than murder and violence to overcome the frustration of unemployment, racial discrimination and poverty.

But getting the message across in these troubled times requires more help than a single person can muster.

"As a student in seminary school, I heard Dr. Samuel Gandy recall his days pastoring in the 1930s and how he happened to be walking down a street where men were shooting craps," Monroe said. "One man covered the die with his hat and said, 'I sorry, Rev. I sorry.' These days, they would say, 'Hey, wanna join in?' "

Monroe played football in high school and at Towson State College. He knows firsthand the influence of the athlete in this society, especially on black youths. He has watched in awe as the power of the ballplayer has been magnified by the media.

"The youth today worship the god of television," Monroe said. "If an athlete on television tells them to go cut a Zodiac sign into their heads, they'll do it. If several of them were to say, 'Stop killing each other,' and really mean it, I believe that would have some impact too."

At age 33, Monroe heads the oldest black congregation in Washington. Mount Zion celebrates its 175th year in 1991. It was young men such as Ron Jones, 22, a graduate of H.D. Woodson High and a third-generation church member, who Monroe was counting on to help lead Mount Zion into the 21st century.

His hurt runs deep.

"There is very little continuance of that moral fiber that made it possible for the black community to survive," Monroe said. "There is a whole generation that has no concept of what it means to be holy. We're hanging on by a thread."

Help from professional athletes is badly needed, he says. What they did for the United Way, for example, has made a tremendous difference in America's response to charitable causes. And surveys show that the attitudes of youths about drugs are affected when they see respected athletes take stands against drug abuse.

"We must try some of everything," Monroe said, noting that one of his friends is establishing a Boy Scout troop.

"He said to me, 'Reverend, when it gets started, will you go on fishing trips with us?' I said, 'Yes, I will sacrifice some time, give of myself, get outside of myself to help somebody else.' "

In the name of Ronald Jones Jr., and the more than 400 other men, women and children who have been slain in the nation's capital so far this year, Monroe is hoping that the nation's professional athletes will be willing to do the same.