Winfield’s Roy Kuhl Sports a family affair

WINFIELD — There is a neat symmetry to the opening, closing and opening again of Roy Kuhl Sports in this small Putnam County town.

It has a lot to do with catchers.

Roy and Norma Kuhl opened the sporting goods store in 1981. The store, which sold equipment, uniforms and supplies to legions of youth and adults playing baseball, football and other sports, had its roots in Roy Kuhl’s lifetime love affair with baseball.

“That’s mostly all I’ve ever done, is played ball and coached. Not a bad life,” said Kuhl.

An East Bank High School all-state baseball star, Kuhl went on to spend seven years in the Cleveland Indians organization as a catcher after signing with them in 1962.

Kuhl caught for a host of minor-league teams across the country. He also played in two big-league games, once against the Pittsburgh Pirates and then for an exhibition game against the International League All-Stars in 1964. He went on to umpire college and high school baseball and worked as assistant coach under Tom Nozica for the University of Charleston’s baseball team.

The sporting goods store he and his wife opened here and which bore Kuhl’s name lasted until 1988. That’s when they sold it to a fellow who planned on running it under another name, but who declared bankruptcy the next year.

There things stood. No more sporting goods store in Winfield.

Meanwhile, a former teenage employee of Roy Kuhl Sports had grown up and married one of Roy’s sons — Roy Kuhl, Jr.

Jennifer Kuhl’s own boys were into baseball, including Roy Kuhl III, who played — appropriately enough — catcher. He was all set to play in a 2010 all-star game when — the day before the match — Jennifer realized they didn’t have a needed piece of equipment.

“We had to have a throat guard the next day,” she said.

What to do? It was too late to race the 25 miles east to Charleston or 40 miles west to Huntington.

“It was too far to have to go either way at last-minute notice,” said Jennifer. “I told them they had to find one in the equipment room.”

Fortunately, they did find a throat guard there. But a seed had been planted.

Jennifer discussed the idea of opening up the old family store with her sister-in-law, Mary, who had married another of Roy Kuhl’s sons, Jess.

“Our father-in-law and mother-in-law were very successful. And it was a very good community service,” said Jennifer.

Mary, a former elementary school teacher, and Jennifer, who had worked as a registered nurse, were at the time both stay-at-home moms.

“We had talked about it for a long time before we actually talked seriously about it,” said Mary.

They took the plunge and got permission from the family to reopen under the old name. In 2011, Roy Kuhl Sports rose again in Winfield.

It helped that sports was in their blood and in both family lines, for Jennifer and Mary.

“I was raised around sports. I had lots of siblings,” said Jennifer. “We were always on a ball field somewhere, whether it was a football field or baseball field. Sports has been a part of our lives always.”

They wanted the new store to be just like the old store, said Jennifer.

“We wanted to open it with that same idea — just make it easy and convenient for families locally,” said Jennifer.

“Customer service is what we pride ourselves on. That’s exactly how Roy Kuhl Sports was before.”

The store stocks equipment and supplies for all the usual sports played in the area, plus a few new ones such as disc golf.

“Disc golf is becoming huge. We have a new disc golf course in Eleanor,” said Jennifer.

“We have tennis, basketball, wrestling, football, baseball, softball, disc golf, volleyball, running shoes. The necessities like athletic tape and shoe strings and just different things,” she said.

The new store also continues the old store’s monogramming of uniforms and T-shirts for teams.

And they traffic in memories, too.

Said Mary, “I don’t know how many stories we’ve heard: ‘I got my first pair of basketball shoes at Roy Kuhl Sports.’ Or ‘I still have my glove from Roy Kuhl Sports.’ We get a lot of that.”

People also come into the store, at 25 Garfield St., just off of the town’s main drag, in search of Roy himself.

Depending on the day, they are likely to find him, as well as Norma, who has helped with the reopened store along with other family members.

Roy teaches hitting in a batting cage at the store on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Husbands of Jennifer and Mary help with the operation, as does Mary’s mother, and their children use a kid-friendly back room as a playroom and drop-off point.

“It’s just a family thing. Our kids are here all the time,” Mary said.

“We had a gang of boys here the other day and they dropped their stuff,” said Jennifer. “They were going from one practice to another. So, this was their drop off point for their stuff — to go get dinner and to come back.”

Given that neither woman had ever run a retail business before, were they anxious about jumping into opening one?

“I don’t think any of this has been scary to us at all,” said Jennifer. “But we always have to mention we are very prayerful in anything we do. And before we even thought about starting this business, we prayed about it. And we feel like it was something that was in our plan for our lives. And it has been very successful.”

The store’s formal grand opening was in February 2012, so they just marked five years in business.

And as for local families running out the door to a baseball game, with a catcher in tow, and in need of an essential piece of equipment?

“We have throat guards, yes, we do,” said Jennifer, laughing.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-3017 or follow @douglaseye on Twitter.

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