On Wednesdays at the Roll 'R' Way in Manassas $1.25 buys the housewives' special, a morning of roller skating and coffee and snacks for about 60 women.

Last fall, after her youngest child started school, Beverley Stefco decided it was high time she got out one day a week. She picked the housewives' special as a sensible outlet for a 35-year-old family woman.

Stefco and her roller skating friends go on to Hardee's or McDonald's after the sessions. Lunch and more coffee extend the day to midafternoon, then they head home and meet the kids coming from school. It's a week's high point for many of them.

Theresa Carter of Fairfax is 14. For her, life's greatest pleasure is going round and round through both night sessions at the Dominion Skating Center in Sterling.

She and her friends spend a long time getting the outfit just right - blue jeans, calico scarf fluttering from the right back pocket, tee shirt with eye-catching slogan across the front. They coast the rink on their high-topped skates, a comb ready for flyaway hair, waiting for a boy to skate couples with.

What really gets Theresa going is the occasional "all-night skate" when the fun runs from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. nonstop.

Roller skating has come a long way from sleazy rinks and what Jim Boyd, chairman of the Southeast Region Roller Rink Operators Association, calls a "redneck image."

It's pulling hard to capture an air of respectability. If crowds are any indication, it's succeeding. The association estimates that more than 20 million people roller skated last year.

"On an average weeked night we get between 500 and 700 skaters," sayd Tom Brown, manager for over 25 years of the grandaddy of local roller risk, the Alexandra Roller Skating Rink. "And our csutomers aren't just kids. We like to think of roller with their own kids."

Brown is a case in point. His wife was a professional skater, their two children married their figure skating partners, and now Brown's granddaughters have donned skates.

The Alexandria rink was built in 1948 and is a throwback to the old days. It is cavernous and run down at the edges; fading silhouettes of figure skaters decorate the walls, their graceful outlines a sharp contrast to the modern "rink boppers" skating to the beat of organ music.

The music itself, Chattanooga Choo Choo or The Tennessee Waltz pumped out by veteran organist Jimmy Boyce, is an anachronism.

"We don't have the lock on customers any more," said Brown. "There are more suburban rinks now, and they tend to draw the families and kids. We get more young adults because of our location."

Brown said that white fears of inner city locations have had an impact, too, and informal patterns have developed.

"Our Sunday night skaters are almost all black, and on Wednesday nights they're 75 per cent male. I'm thinking of bringing Anita Bryant here on a Wednesday night and giving her an award," Brown grumbled.

The Dominion Skating Centers of Virginia, a chain of five rinks in the outlying suburbs, are owned by Boyd and his brother. They picked spots like Dumfries and Sterling because land was cheaper and average family incomes lower than the close-in suburbs.

Boyd has a theory about income and roller skating - the higher the income, the less people tend to skate.

"I don't know that education has anything to do with it. But in Sterling Park, where the average family makes $18,000, we have smaller crowds than in Dumfries, where $12,000 to $14,000 is more typical," he said.

The new, smaller rinks, with vibrant colors gleaming under bright lights and carpeting on the sidelines are dominated by giant sound systems. And they frankly cater to teenagers.

"I started out in Sterling with organ music but the kids didn't like it," Boyd said. "They wanted disco, so that's what we have. I provide a high quality facility and a wholesome social activity. They come to meet a boy, meet a girl, have a good time."

A paternalistic atmosphere pervades these new rinks: the hostess at Manassas schedeules which two of the Wednesday morning women will trade home-made refreshments for free skating; in Alexandria the cashier hands out a bandagage or hunts up a wrench to tighten a loose skate.

Boyd's reason for insisting on a dress code, as all the rinks do, is simple:

"I figure if I can get them to follow one rule before they come in the door, then I can get them to abide by the rules inside."

For hard-core skaters, though, competition is the name of the game. Competitive skaters do all the things ice skaters do and, according to Brown, there are far more quality roller skaters than ice skaters.

"We have little kids who would make Dorothy Hamill look sick," he said.

A sport that has been considered the stepchild of ice skating will gain a large measure of respectability come 1979. Then, roller skating in all categories - figures, speed, artistic skating - will be part of the Pan American games for the first time. Some folks who know roller skating think that wioll give the sport the exposure it needs to be considered for a place in the Olympics.

All this new respectability is fine with 31-year-old Warren Culp, a clerk by the day who dons a red jacket and becomes a skate guard in Alexandria by night. His whistle keeps speeders in check and beginners from impending the circular traffic flow. He loves his job.

"The skating rink is a great place to meet people. A total stranger isn't out of line if he asks a girl to skate. It's not like a bar - a guy doesn't think you're trying to mess around with his wife if you ask her to skate."

Culp should know. That's how he met his wife.