116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City West baseball coach Charlie Stumpff stood behind home plate.
The 30-year Trojans head coach was flanked by Iowa City Liberty Coach and former longtime Stumpff assistant and player Tom Cronk. Instead of exchanging lineups and returning to the dugout, Stumpff watched as his family approached him and stood by him as a procession of his former West players lined up in the infield grass.
The large group honored the Trojans head coach between games of the Mississippi Valley Conference baseball doubleheader against Liberty Friday night at West. Stumpff wiped away tears after receiving a plaque from current and former administrators, greeting past players and taking a large group photo with them all to conclude the ceremony.
“It meant everything,” said Stumpff, who was supported once again by his wife, Kathy, and his three daughters, Jenny, Emily and Shelley. “I got real emotional because it’s a lifetime. A life of love and these guys made it special. You just kind of say where the hell did 30 years go.”
Stumpff, who retired from teaching at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, said he was surprised by the tribute. The former Norway prep for legendary coach Jim Van Scoyoc started to notice an increase of people that showed up and realized something was happening.
“I did not know,” Stumpff said. “Whoever set it up, they did good work, and I’m not the brightest guy, so there were probably clues it was going on. Then, all the great kids and people were here.”
Current activities director B.J. Mayer, West principal Mitch Gross and former Trojans AD Marv Reiland presented the award to Stumpff. Reiland provided Stumpff with the opportunity to take over the program in 1993.
“Tommy says the same about me that he’s lucky I was here in 1993 or he may not be here,” Stumpff said. “Same way. If Marv doesn’t hire me, who knows where you go to. You feel real blessed that you landed here.”
Players from all eras of Stumpff’s tenure attended, including his first team, the early 2000s and state finalists during the last 15 years. Cronk was a senior in Stumpff’s first season at West and returned to be his assistant for more than two decades before becoming Liberty’s first head coach.
The relationship between Cronk and Stumpff is stronger than most but indicative of the bonds Stumpff has established with his players. The pair have survived wins and losses on and off the field together. Stumpff is the godfather of Cronk’s child.
“You can see the impact he’s had and I don’t have to look very far,” Cronk said. “I’m not where I am today without him. There are a whole lot of people here because of what he’s done for us.
“It’s way bigger than just baseball. He makes us men. He keeps us accountable. He treats us right and then we do it through the platform of baseball.”
The mutual appreciation between players and Stumpff and him to his family, players and assistants were almost palpable. One by one, former players stepped to Stumpff to offer handshakes and hugs. The former athletes went on to become fathers, husbands, adults and businessmen with an imprint of Stumpff’s hand on their lives.
“I’ve gotten so much more from them,” Stumpff said. “If they’ve gotten something from me, I don’t know. I feel these kids are so much more intelligent than me. This class, we have four National Merit Scholars. They’re 4.0-plus (grade-point averages). It’s been like that forever. I feel like, ‘Holy cow, I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be around them’ and they let me boss them around.
“I hope I had a little bit of an impact. They’re just incredible people on their own and they’re going to go on and do well.”
Current Trojans players received tangible proof of the influence Stumpff has had over the years. They gained a new perspective of their current experience with the high school coach with 835 career wins at West and Northeast Hamilton.
“It was pretty cool,” Vander Leest said of the line of former players. “Guys that did multiple things to come together for this guy. It’s amazing. Honestly, it’s inspiring for us, too. All these guys and we’re playing for him, too. It’s cool to see the relationships he’s built and we’re doing that now.”
Vander Leest noted that Stumpff is always positive and keeps players upbeat, despite a sport filled with failures. He said he builds a personal rapport with players, allowing Stumpff to talk endlessly about each one during the awards banquet after the season. Baseball is just a vessel for him to provide life lessons.
“His ultimate goal is to make you a better human being,” Vander Leest said. “Just be a good guy and good leader through that. He tries to make you a better person in life. I think he’s done a good job in that.”
Stumpff led Northeast Hamilton to the state tournament in 1991. He was 4-22-1 in his first year taking over a lackluster West program. It didn’t take long for Stumpff to make the program into a 20-game winner. He has led West to 11 state tournament trips, finishing second in 2009-10 and from 2014-16. Stumpff ranks sixth all-time among Iowa coaches with 12 summer state tournament appearances.
“He just keeps winning,” Cronk said. “He teaches the game. He teaches good kids how to be. It’s pretty remarkable.”
The future is uncertain. He still has a passion for baseball and for the players. Even though he is done teaching, he could remain in coaching.
“I really do not know,” Stumpff said. “The only thing I know for sure is they will not fill it until I definitively tell them what we’re going to do.
“This is a good year. They’re a good, fun group.”
On the periphery of the most notable part of the night, two games were still played. A split between Liberty and West seemed appropriate since everyone at the park that has crossed paths with Stumpff were the real winners.
West (16-19) took the nightcap. Ben Hoefer, Nathan Stephens and Noah DeSaulniers combined for a 3-0 shutout. Cade Adkins, Jacob Koch and Nate Anderson had RBIs, while Koch also scored. The victory snapped a three-game skid.
“We just needed a win,” Stumpff said. “We’re like hang in there. You guys are doing good work.
“That was a big win for us.”