In one spot in town on Saturday evening, school girls will be getting dressed up in beautiful gowns.

Their hair will be fancy and their makeup pretty.

A few blocks away, women on skates will be pushing and shoving each other around.

They’ll be sweaty, disheveled and dirty.

Worlds apart, but the two events are intertwined through a special sort of sisterhood, one that’s been bolstering local women since the rollout of the Walla Walla Sweets Rollergirls league in 2009.

The roller derby team was founded on the concept of empowering women in two ways. First through participation in the sport itself, which aims to challenge and strengthen women through workouts, learning new skills, endurance and the camaraderie that develops throughout the process.

The second way comes through the league’s outreach, said Rollergirls member Tricia Berens.

In addition to volunteering at events for organizations that help women, the league has done internal drives among members. Last year, skaters contributed feminine products that went to Helpline clients, she said.

“Our main focus is women, children and families.”

The public bouts raise money, too, from 50-50 split raffles to some of the gate proceeds, Berens said.

“We try to donate a third of what we make at every bout.”

This week’s “Black & Blue Tie Affair” bout against Rodeo City Rollergirls from Ellensburg will further the mission by knocking out a potential barrier for girls who attend Lincoln High School here, she said.

It’s high school prom season, and many of the students who attend borrow prom dresses from Tabitha’s Closet, noted Lincoln Principal March Knauft.

Housed at Christ Lutheran Church, the program lends formal wear to Walla Walla teens for special events.

It’s a reasonable request, to require that borrowers dry clean the gown before returning it, but even that $15.25 charge can be a roadblock for some, Knauft said.

This year there won’t be any exclusion by poverty. Not if the Rollergirls, and their ticket-buying audiences, can help it, Berens said.

There is a soft spot in the team’s collective heart for the high school, she explained.

The school, housed in a building dating back to 1927, serves a student population that can struggle in a traditional high school setting. Many kids land at Lincoln carrying the weight of childhood trauma, poverty, unstable housing and prior academic failures.

It’s not the conventional high school, even for prom, Berens pointed out.

“Lincoln does a very nontraditional, lovely thing with their prom,” she said. “They serve the dinner before the prom at the school, so kids don’t have to try and find the money for that.”

It may not be the typical spring prom scene, she added, “but these are not typical kids.”

That can be mirrored in her sport of choice, Berens pointed out.

“In many cases women who are attracted to roller derby … it is because they are in transition. There is something that they need and roller derby gives it. And in a lot of cases, these Lincoln kids are in the same exact spot.

“In our case, derby meets that need,” she said. “In their case, they don’t know what that will be yet. But if going to prom will help, we definitely want to be part of that.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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