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Executive sports editor Kapral retiring after 42 years

WHEELING — Robert “Bubba” Kapral has held many titles in his 42-year journalism career — sports writer, managing editor, executive sports editor, mentor and friend.

As of today, you can add “retired” to that list.

Kapral is winding up his career as executive sports editor of The Intelligencer, Wheeling News-Register and The Times Leader during an unprecedented time in this country and the world. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought the sports world to its knees, Kapral maintained his poise and produced interesting columns and stories about local sports enthusiasts and players of all genres.

Finding the interesting tidbits about local high school and college players and coaches has always been his passion, resulting in his column titled “Bubba’s Bits.”

Just ask anyone he has written about, coached or encouraged. Kapral has told hundreds of stories and has proven to be one of the best cheerleaders for local kids in sports. He has always been able to produce good stories and maintain friendships within the coaching community.

He earned their respect through the thick and thin years of local sports programs.

“I’ve met a lot of good people. They trusted me enough to tell me stuff off the record, too. It’s like Humpty-Dumpty … if you break that trust, it’s all over,” he said.

A product of St. John Central High School in Bellaire, Kapral never strayed far from his alma mater or his Catholic upbringing. After graduating from Bethany College — where he earned his nickname playing football — he began his journey into journalism in July 1978 at The Times Leader in Martins Ferry. It’s there that Kapral said he learned the sportswriting business at the knee of revered sportswriter Cal Pokas.

“Cal Pokas was the ultimate teacher. He made us better. I loved that I got to induct him into several halls of fame,” he said.

Not long after Kapral joined the journalism ranks, he also stepped into coaching roles at St. John’s including track and girls basketball. He brought his young charges to many victories over the 31 years he held the coach’s whistle. Later he would trade that whistle in for a stint as a local basketball official, something that has brought him a different perspective of the game.

He recalls quickly learning the demands of being a sports writer. “I started at The Times Leader in the summer and right into football season. I had football tab assignments and had to cover games. What I didn’t know in the beginning is that you worked split shifts — in the morning to put out the paper and then came back in the evening to cover games and take scores over the phone.”

Kapral is a member of the Ohio Eastern District Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2019. He has earned writing awards and many kudos from peers throughout his four decades-plus career.

He said he is especially proud to have been honored by the Bridgeport and Barnesville school districts for his writing. Kapral hopes to keep his hand in the sports writing arena from time to time.

“I have one regret — that I didn’t keep a journal of all the people I worked with. You don’t think about that when you’re starting out. I have worked with some great people,” Kapral noted.

Along with Pokas, Kapral also carried forward a legacy from local sportswriting greats such as Bill Van Horne, Nick Bedway and Doug Huff.

He’s also maintained an archive of clippings of every one of his bylined articles. His basement is a walk through of 42 years of sports coverage. Among his favorite events to cover was the LPGA tour that was held at Oglebay Park’s Jones course.

As the uncertainty of the local sports picture continues to unfold, Kapral is quick to point out what high school football means to local communities.

“The Ohio Valley is a great place to be. It is crucial to have high school football for the psyche and economy of the Ohio Valley. … The Ohio Valley is sports and the (Ohio Valley Athletic Conference) drives it.”

Kapral claims to have a retirement bucket list, but is not quite ready to share all of it with the rest of us. He does hope to be able to attend morning Mass now that time will allow. “Mass is a great way to start the day,” he said.

One thing is certain, though, it’s not in Kapral’s nature to sit still for very long.

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