BEND, Ore. (AP) — Every Sunday afternoon at Cascade Indoor Sports, nearly 50 girls ages 6 to 17 gather on roller skates to push, shove and block each other as part of Central Oregon's Junior Roller Derby League.
The girls and organizers admit the process can perplex outsiders. But beneath the stereotypes of roller derby are young girls growing up, learning to work as a team, communicating with each other and making new friends.
The Lava City Roller Dolls, one of Bend's two roller derby leagues, started the junior league just two months ago with the goal of developing young girls' athleticism, teamwork and above all else, their confidence.
Jana Washatka, 42, of Bend, who goes by "Toosh Come to Shove" in the Lava City Roller Dolls adult league, is director of the junior program. She said the program is crucial to the development of their league as well as to the development of the girls.
"They are the future of the derby," Washatka said. "We're teaching them to skate smart, to work as a team, to develop skills that work beyond roller derby."
Last summer, the Roller Dolls started a series of youth camps to gauge the interest of young girls in the community.
They had more than 50 girls come out for each event.
The courses taught the girls to skate, the rules of the league and the culture of roller derby, which Washatka says is far more athletic and competitive than the theatrical roller derby of old.
But beyond the sport is the development of the young skaters.
Classes on nutrition and self-image are introduced between drills on jumping in skates and positional blocking.
"I notice that with roller derby a young woman's self-image improves," said Washatka. "We are a sport. We are competitive. But we are a positive group. No one out here says 'I can't' because these girls can."
Washatka's daughter, 16-year-old Aidan, competes in the league and says her favorite part of the process is being part of a community.
"It's like a family out here," said the younger Washatka, who goes by the name "Scarlett Johanslam" in the derby. "Just meeting all the people is the best part. You hip check someone one day and the next you are friends.
Aidan Washatka said she is also meeting girls from outside of Bend High School, where she is a student.
"I wouldn't otherwise know some of these girls," she said. "It's really nice to meet new people out here. It's really the best part."
Samantha Bogue, 14, of Bend and going by the name "Briar Thorne" in the derby, said she considers the skating rink a place for her to be a little bit different than what people would expect.
"I tell people I do this, and they say to me that it doesn't seem like me at all," Bogue said. "I'm proud of that."
Samantha Bogue's mother, Monica Bogue, said she was grateful to the league for giving her daughter a chance to grow.
"She was shy before this," Monica Bogue said. "She's a straight-A student who is actually very quiet. When she saw this, she asked to get involved, and I thought it might be a good thing. It's been a great thing."
Before she began skating, Samantha asked her grandmother if she could take the money her "nana" had promised her for violin lessons and, instead, use it for the derby.
Her grandmother said as long as she didn't get a tattoo then she could take part.
One of her first purchases was a pair of gold tights.
"I would never wear that to school," Samantha Bogue said. "It's like having an alter ego here."
Her mother, inspired by her daughter's interest, also joined the derby in the adult league. Monica Bogue, 41, is known as "Dirty Jo" in the rink.
She said the sport has made her more athletic and also, closer to her daughter.
"We stay for each other's practices, we can skate together and we go to the bouts together," Monica Bogue said. "It's something that she does, and when she talks to me about it, she knows that I get it. That's a great part of this. Sharing it with her."
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.