Athletes from the District of Columbia are expected to perform well in basketball, bowling and volleyball when the United States Youth Games begin tonight.

About 1,500 athletes ranging from 9 to 15 will compete. Mayor Marion Barry kicks off the opening ceremonies begin at 5:15 at Gallaudet University. The ceremonies, will include a parade, lighting of the flame and other entertainment.

Sixteen cities will compete, each with 78 athletes, at the three host schools: Catholic, Gallaudet and Trinity College. The games rotate sites from year to year, but often have been held in Washington, national headquarters of the Games.

The six sports also will include swimming, tennis, and track and field. Most sports will be contested by age groups, and all teams except track and field and basketball will be co-ed.

District athletes won gold medals last year in boys and girls basketball, and in bowling. Bertha Bell will coach a girls basketball team with only three high school players: Kenya Howze, Hope Inyamah and Jamila Barber. Stanley Parham will coach the boys.

Washington bowler Debbie Myers won the 9-11 age group last year, but moves up to 12-13 this year. Neal Downing, Terri Dukes and Jonathan Jackson are other promising bowlers.

The volleyball team comes almost exclusively from Jefferson Junior High, including coach Richard Bachman, who took Jefferson to five straight Interhigh titles.

Catherine Wimberly could be a multiple winner in the 15-and-under swimming, which will include four freestyle events and the 200-yard individual medley.

The athletes were picked in open tryouts starting in April, and are eligible only if they live within 10 miles of their city and have not been ranked nationally.