IOWA CITY — As Charlie Stumpff untied his cleats for the final time, he was quickly presented with two life paths: get a desk job or work as a high school baseball coach and teach PE.
It was a simple choice for Stumpff, who had grown up in the baseball-rich town of Norway and received mentorship from Hall of Famers Jim Van Scoyoc and Harold Primrose.
“The older I got you find that playing is the best, and coaching is about the next best thing you can do,” Stumpff said. “You get to be involved in games, you still get those highs and lows. It was just a natural fit.”
Stumpff’s coaching career began at Northeast Hamilton, a school with a graduating class of about 20 students, where he lead his squad to a state tournament birth in 1991. Later that year, Marv Reiland tabbed Stumpff as head baseball coach at Iowa City West.
In his 27-year tenure with the Trojans, Stumpff, now a Hall of Famer himself, has amassed 682 victories and 11 state tournament appearances. Despite reaching the title game in five of those appearances, there’s one achievement Stumpff is yet to obtain — state champion.
“I think I get a pity party because we’ve been runner-up five times,” Stumpff said. “The last game that you lose is always hard, but then you look back and say the experience was pretty cool.”
It’s those experiences that keep Stumpff coming back every year. Coaching high school baseball has allowed Stumpff to stay young at heart while creating lifelong relationships with his players.
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“Even though I’m way older than the guys I’m coaching now, my guys still come back and look me up,” Stumpff said. “You develop friendships with the players. I think athletics gives you that unique situation in developing friendships.”
For what Stumpff’s current players lack in age, they more than make up for in experience and cohesiveness.
Stumpff has relied heavily on his group of 13 seniors, who have accounted for anywhere from seven to nine of the available lineup spots for the Trojans this summer. Most of the group has been playing together since they were 8 years old, and their team chemistry has allowed for an easy transition to high school ball.
“We’re a pretty experienced group,” said senior Noah Aanestad. “We know each other pretty well and have been playing with each other for a long time.”
Stumpff has built his program on the foundation of personal connection. He wants his players to see him as their coach first, but also someone they can talk to about life outside of sports. The boys have since become accustomed to the jokes and riffs Stumpff regularly dishes out in an attempt to keep things lighthearted.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Aanestad said. “He has a good time, practice is his focus, but he’ll joke around a lot and he’s a funny guy.”
Another pillar of Stumpff’s program is his focus on attitude. He understands skills such as speed and hitting ability are important, but that a great team requires each member to be locked into the game whether they are out in the field or in the dugout.
When players strike out, Stumpff makes sure they hustle off the field and cheer on their teammates. Stumpff also mandates that his players sprint into the dugout after innings, regardless of whether they let up five runs or zero.
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“He’s all about hustle and effort,” said junior Ben VanderLeest. “As long as we’re giving our best hustle and best effort than he knows the results will come if we work hard.”
This year’s team has certainly embraced the hard work it will take to be playing for a title in August. The group has been motivated throughout the offseason by a substate final loss to Cedar Rapids Washington in which the Trojans failed to score in the final six innings.
The team before Stumpff has all of the tools to win a state championship, and he believes this group has as good a shot as any to break the glass ceiling.
“They’re baseball guys, they do all the stuff you’re supposed to do,” Stumpff said. “They like to play and they like each other. You don’t have to like each other as teammates, but it sure helps when they do.”
The Trojans are 12-4 heading into Friday’s game against Cedar Rapids Kennedy and riding a five-game winning streak.
Sophomore Marcus Morgan has emerged as the Trojans ace pitcher with a 4-0 record with 34 strikeouts in 20 innings, the highest mark among Class 4A pitchers. Senior Jason Strunk is batting .483.
“I know this group will do whatever it takes and sacrifice in the summer,” Stumpff said. “Hopefully we’re playing well at the end of the year and their talent takes us to where we need to get to.”