- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - When Mindy Parsley was a kid growing up on a farm outside Clarksburg, West Virginia, she spent a lot of time at the local roller rink. There were a lot of Friday and Saturday nights when she could be found skating in circles or shooting the duck, a term referring to a trick that involves squatting and sticking one leg forward while skating.

Then she grew up. She graduated from Bridgeport High in 1999 and then West Virginia University in 2004, before graduating from WVU’s College of Law in 2008, followed by getting a an advanced law degree at American University in Washington, D.C.

She worked in Washington for a while before coming back to West Virginia in 2010 to work for Legal Aid, followed by serving as a prosecutor in Marion County.

Today, she’s a 36-year-old Charleston resident and attorney who works for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals by day. By night, she goes by the derby name “Minnie Hurl” and serves as president of the Chemical Valley Roller Girls.

This is a group of adult women who compete in roller derby “bouts” throughout the region and Eastern United States, and who practice locally at Skateland in Altizer. By trade, they cover an array of careers - from nurses to teachers to paralegals, with some college students and others. But all found their way back to the roller rink as adults to enjoy the camaraderie, to speed around the rink and to blow off some steam.

John McBrayer, who works with at-risk youth through his job at Prestera Center, serves as a derby referee and skates in men’s bouts when he gets the chance. His derby name is “The Mountain that Skates,” and he says there’s a common trend in derby skating that people seem to discover the hobby during a time of transition in their lives. It’s often said, “We ruin our bodies to save our souls,” he said with a laugh, adding, “They’re all cool, good-hearted people.”

It’s not as rough as it used to be, said Parsley, who got into derby skating a couple years ago after many years of wanting to give it a try but never being able to find a local program and an accessible schedule.

She had recently taken her young niece skating and realized how much she missed it.

“I hadn’t skated in 20 years, but I realized I can still skate and I’m not going to break every bone,” Parsley said. “I fell into this group of super cool ladies. We’re all different, but we have similarities.”

It’s nice that there’s a team sport for women that they can learn from scratch as an adult, McBrayer said.

“If you join a soccer league, they’re going to expect you to know how to play already,” he said. When it comes to roller derby skating, they start by teaching novices about safety gear, which includes a helmet, elbow and knee pads, wrist guards and mouth guards, and then they teach them about the game from scratch. They learn how to start, stop and fall safely, and the rules and strategies for playing.

In roller derby bouts, there are two teams with five players skating at a time. Each team has one skater called a “jammer” and four skaters called “blockers” on the rink. Each team’s jammer aims to get ahead and pass the other team’s skaters. The blockers on each team try to prevent the other team’s jammers from getting ahead while also protecting their own jammer so she can do her thing. The blockers skate in “packs.”

The bouts are broken down into two-minute sessions called “jams,” and the jammer gets points for every member of the opposite team that she passes (meaning her hips have to be in front of the opposing player). If she laps the other team’s jammer, she scores a grand slam for five points.

There are rules to encourage safety. Skaters cannot use their hands, so there’s no punching. They cannot strike others on the head or square on the back or from the knee down. They can only strike each other on the sides from their mid thigh up to their shoulder. Any violations lead to time in the penalty box, and after seven trips to the penalty box, or one particularly nasty violation, a skater is expelled from the bout.

“When derby is going on all cylinders, it’s beautiful and brutal to watch,” McBrayer said.

The Chemical Valley Roller Girls consists of two teams, an all star team (which is the Chemical Valley Roller Girls All Star Team) and a B Team (which is the Jewel City Roller Girls). The all star team consists of members who have all met certain skill level standards in order to play in bouts sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. For example, they have to be able to skate 27 laps in five minutes or less, and meet other standards in jumping, lateral movements, skating backwards quickly and being able to plow stop within four seconds. Not being able to perform at these standards poses a safety risk for all skaters on the rink.

Those who are strong skaters but still working toward all the standards can play in non-sanctioned bouts as part of the Jewel City Roller Girls.

The Chemical Valley Roller Girls and Jewel City Roller Girls used to be entirely different programs, but they decided to join forces a couple years ago to give them competitive edge. Now, the program includes skaters from as far east as Charleston and as far west as Ashland. Their coach is Devin Cordray, whose derby name is “Punch E. McBeardfist.”

They practice regularly at Skateland in Huntington but don’t have bouts there because it’s not big enough. They have rented local arenas for their bouts, but that’s expensive, so they usually play away, Parsley said. Their upcoming bouts are in places like Virginia and Morgantown, she said.

Parsley actually plays on a statewide all-star team as well, along with a handful of other women from the Chemical Valley program. The skaters have had their share of bruises, sore muscles, black eyes, sprains, knee injuries and more, but it’s a fantastic sisterhood, Parsley said.

“It’s so great to meet all these people who really go to bat for each other and are involved in each other’s lives,” Parsley said. “I skate four to seven hours a week, depending on which team has practice. So we spend a lot of time together.”

It’s not a scary sport, she said, just intense.

“You have to be fast, turn quickly, hit somebody, turn and go other directions - but you’re on wheel shoes (that’s what we call them) and that makes a big difference,” she said. “It takes a lot of playing to get good at this game.”


Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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