Mindy Parsley walks out of her quiet office at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals where she’s a writ clerk, leaving behind the soft strains of instrumental music after she extinguishes her mint-scented candle.
After an hour of driving, she arrives in Huntington, W.Va., where she becomes “Minnie Hurl,” a blocker for the traveling roller derby team the Chemical Valley Roller Girls.
She puts on a helmet, mouth guard, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads and Antik AR-1 boot skates with a Neo-Reactor plate set-up and giant GumBall toe stops. At the rink, against the backdrop of loud old-school hip-hop music, the skaters slice through the musty indoor air.
Parsley, BA ’04, JD ’08, began her roller derby skating career two years ago. She had skated as a child, and roller derby reminds her of the theatrics in the professional wrestling she enjoyed watching while growing up.
In the rink, she plays defense as a blocker. Her role is to stop the opposing team’s jammer, the person responsible for scoring points. She’s as subtle as you can be while forming a wall.
“I try to not look like that much of a threat,” she said. “A lot of girls have bigger teams in their walls. My team has a medium-sized wall, but we’re still pretty strong. We’re kind of unassuming. Our job is to do whatever is legal and necessary to keep the [opposing] jammer from scoring points. You have to keep it legal on the track but effective.”
That was like her philosophy as a prosecutor in Fairmont, W.Va.: Hold people accountable in a calm way.
As Minnie Hurl — a reference to how a relative nicknamed her “Minnie Pearl” after the Grand Ole Opry comedian — she uses a variety of techniques to put a stop to the other team’s jammer, including plow stops, a wall of blockers, leg traps, cross-body checks and booty blocking.
Her giant toe stops help her brake while skating backward and help her stay in bounds. She’s also on her toes as an attorney.
“Both require the ability to think on your feet,” Parsley said. “In both you have to be able to make snap decisions based on what’s happening in real time. You also have to make calculations depending on the outcome you’re hoping for.”
Law school and derby practice are similar, too. They prepare you, but they’re still not like the real thing.
“While you are preparing for a certain outcome, those outcomes are never what happens when you are actually playing derby in a bout or practicing law,” she said.
That’s where confidence comes in, especially as an attorney.
“I enjoy being right and arguing a position that I believe is the right answer,” she said. “Law is all about putting forth your position in the best possible way.”
It’s the same on the track, where Parsley has to cross body check a jammer and keep her from breaking through the pack and scoring, all the while looking out for her own jammer and trying to help her through the crowd of nine other skaters.
Jammers fight their way out of the pack, then race around to lap the pack again, earning a point each time they pass a member of the opposing team on their second pass. The first jammer that legally passes through the pack is the lead jammer and her jam ends when the two-minute time period is over or she calls off the jam. Teams can score into the hundreds during two 30-minute halves.
While the teams compete, the smell of sweat gets mixed with popcorn, and the decibels increase as cheers from the crowd mix with the thrum of skates and the banter on the track.
“It sounds a bit like a circus, both teams yelling to one another on the track, the refs’ whistles, the sounds of the announcer and the fans,” Parsley said.
Parsley can spend up to 10 hours a week practicing for bouts during the regular season which runs from April through November. She also skates for the West Virginia All Stars. It’s a big commitment at the Division III level where there are no sponsorships. But there are other perks.
“Every time we get together it’s just fun,” she said. “The people I skate with are awesome.”