He could never pluck a dime off a backboard or throw a football 60 yards, but when they talk about sporting legends in this city, James (Jabbo) Kenner clearly rates all-world status.
To thousands of children who crossed the threshhold of Police Boy's Club No. 2, battered brick building in Northwest Washington, the man known simply as "Mr. Jabbo" was capable of leaping over the moon in a single bound.
"He was so much a symbol of the boys' club, you thought he was the club," said Georgetown University basketball Coach John Thompson, one of Kenner's little "buddies" years ago.
"He's one of the finest men I've ever met. It's very difficult to describe him. Everybody felt close to him. I know he supplied me with a great deal of psychological security."
Kenner, now 64, supplied that needed security and much more. For 40 years ("It seemed like many more," Kenner said), Mr. Jabbo met his buddies at the front door of the club, ready to console or consult, to counsel and care.
Frequently, Kenner literally provided the coat off his back or the last dollar from his pocket, even after he retired in 1977 after 12 fruitful years as the club's director.
"Someone has to look out for the little people," he said the other day. "If a kid's home life wasn't that good, I'd try to make him feel at home at the club. I would never let him forget about his home or talk bad about his parents, though many wanted to. I would tell the kids parents have problems, too, and they have to learn to appreciate them, none the less."
Kenner began helping children when he was in kindergarten at Phillips Elementary School in Northwest Washington so long ago.
"I was always the biggest kid in my class so it was only natural for the teacher to let me help her with her duties or the other kids in the class," recalled Kenner, who is 6-3 and 270 pounds. "I guess you can say I actually started being a counselor about 59 years ago."
Kenner later attended Francis Junior High, where he picked up his nickname.
"Times were hard in those days," he said. "So, a buddy and I would share sandwiches at lunchtime. It was his day to bring me a sandwich and a bully took it. Now you know, you don't mess with a man's food. He was in trouble. I went up side his head and ended up getting the switch from the principal.
"Later, I found out, all the teachers and the principal were glad I beat up this bully because he was a problem for everyone. From that moment on, everyone started calling me Jabbo because I jabbed him out."
Kenner went on to become a fine three-sport athlete at Armstrong High, playing baseball and football and running track. He took up boxing and also received several offers to play college football. But his father had died when Kenner was a child, and with an invalid mother and brother still at home, Kenner decided to stay in Washington.
In 1931, Kenner and a group of friends formed the Hornets Athletic Club.
"It was just a group of guys who wanted to stay out of trouble," Kenner said. "There were very few playgrounds for blacks then and we got together and worked a deal with the principal at Phillips and the police. If we paid for the windows we broke, we could play there. We got our two cents together and had our playground.
"I became active in the boys' club in 1937, first as a custodian, then as a helper," he said. "That's when I really got into boxing. Even though I was 22 or so, the neighborhood kids began to look up to me. Maybe it was because I was big.
Kenner's right jab became well-known around town when he won the Middle Atlantic Coast black heavy-weight championship. Kenner said he doesn't remember how many fights he won, only that he was being pushed to turn professional, even though he wasn't particularly fond of fighting.
"I was a big chicken," Kenner said. "Those guys I knocked out just ran into my fist. I didn't like to hurt people. It made me sick to just pound a fellow to death for 15 rounds."
Just when the boys' club became popular, Kenner was floored himself with tuberculosis in 1943.
"That was a tough time for me," Kenner recalled. "I stayed in the hospital for two years and eight months, but I kept close contact with the club. There was a lot of sadness there and I began helping out around the hospital as a nurse, entertainer, whatever was needed. Sometimes patients died in my arms. I think I was the only person given a going-away party when I left.
"I promised the man upstairs, if he let me beat this, I would dedicate the rest of my life to helping little people. I really became more active in the club then."
Kenner became even more well known in the 1950s and '60s. Most of the Washington area's top high school athletes were products of No. 2, and a list of people touched by Kenner's kindness and caring reads like a who's who of the city's black community.
They include: Delegate Walter Fauntroy, former Packer All-Pro Willie Wood, singers Marvin Gaye and Don Covay, former light-heavyweight champion Bobby Foster, basketball stars Austin Carr, John Austin and Bob Whitmore.
"A lot of good athletes came through there," said his nephew, Horace (Scoop) Kenner. "Look at the All-Met lists and most of them were helped by Jabbo in some way."
Scoop Kenner, a quarterback at Cardozo High, Howard and Xavier (Ohio) universities, added, "I got started there. He would tell me to keep my nose clean and I would go a long way."
"Jabbo would give you an ear job, now," Thompson said, laughing. "He can talk you to death. He made your problems so much a part of him. You ask me when I met Mr. Jabbo, I can't remember. He was just there. I even call people Buddy now."
Last weekend, Kenner was given a retirement luncheon by the Roving Leaders at the Sheraton Lanham.
"It was a wonderful affair," said Kenner. "More than 200 people came. And with this gas thing that long holiday weekend, I was really pleased so many of my old buddies came out to see Mr. Jab.
"I'll miss working with the Roving Leaders, some of the finest men in the world, and the club," he said, "but I'll probably volunteer some time to the hospital in Williamsburg," where he has purchased a home and plans to retire.
Kenner's work as a resource specialist includes collecting food, clothing, furniture and money from church groups, private citizens and community organizations and distributing them to the sick and needy.
He was doing that for years, even when he worked full time for the boys' club.
"Mr. Kenner has never failed us in 8 1/2 years, he always makes arrangements to come up with what we need," said Virgie Smith, director of the Model Cities Senior Citizen Center in Northeast Washington. "He is our Santa Claus and the people love him."
Father Grant Sherk, pastor of McLean's St. Dunston Church, said he doesn't know what his parish will do when Kenner finally retires.
"We've worked together 14 years now and we'll miss him," said Father Sherk. "He takes what little we have and gives to the right people. He provides that personal touch we could never do."
Through his dozens of contacts, including a church group called SHARE, Kenner has provided thousands of dollars in food, clothing, money and other necessities. He also has made arrangements to help dozens of youngsters get jobs to earn tuition for college.
Kenner and his wife, Beatrice, have three foster children, Tony, Bobby and Woodrow. On many occasions, when the Kenners lived in the District and, later, McLean, they often opened their doors and their hearts to youngsters with no other place to go.
The Kenners had plenty of space at their McLean home, surrounded by land a plantation owner gave their family when slavery was abolished.
"I'd come home looking sad and Beatrice knew I had paid someone's rent," Kenner said. "She'd just say, 'That's okay, I have a few pennies around here.' One youngster was getting married and didn't have a suit. He took my best suit. Broke my heart, but he was happy. I used t give the kids a few dollars when they made the honor roll or get perfect attendance. I had to cut back a little, cost me too much money."
Kenner has received countless awards and commendations and has been honored at more banquets and testimonials over the years than he cares to remember. One of his favorite gifts is a permanent seat at Georgetown home basketball games.
"Everyone knows when Mr. Jabbo comes, he sits on the front row," Thompson said. "He always has a seat."
But sitting down is the last thing Kenner wants to do.
"God will give you plenty of time to rest one day," he said. "Until that day comes, I'll try to help some little guy find the way.
"The kids - most are not kids any more - still come by the club and ask, 'Is Mr. Jabbo dead?' Well, you can tell all my old buddies, Mr. Jabbo is still around." CAPTION: Picture, James Kenner, "Mr. Jabbo" to thousands of District youths.