Back in 1978, Gene Klumpp was content with his life as a truck driver for 40 years and a member of the Teamsters Union 560 for 34 years. Klumpp worked for Red Star Trucking and was a local driver in the New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey area.
But at that time, Klumpp’s three sons, Billy, Darren, and Eugene, were of Little League baseball age and the Bayonne Little League required parents to either coach or umpire games on a volunteer basis.
“It was how they got umpires,” Klumpp recalled. “I knew nothing about umpiring or coaching.”
Klumpp found out in a hurry. He served as a coach in both the Bayonne Little League and PAL, both in baseball and basketball, for more than 20 years.
In a 23-year stint coaching boys’ basketball at the Bayonne PAL, Klumpp coached such budding stars as Jack Gordon, the all-time leading scorer in St. Peter’s Prep history and a member of the Monmouth University Hall of Fame, Ken Teschlog, who went on to become a standout player and coach at Prep, and Brandon Stokes. Klumpp also coached Sean Drennan, currently the head basketball coach at Dickinson High School in Jersey City.
One year, Klumpp coached an Intermediate Boys (ages 11 and 12) team that went undefeated and captured a league championship.
But it was as an umpire where Klumpp truly made his mark. After all, he already had the appropriate name: “Klumpp the Ump.”
“It matched my name and it stuck with me,” Klumpp said.
Klumpp worked his way up the ranks in umpiring, first in American Softball Association men’s leagues in Bayonne and eventually in 1987, he went into umpiring on the high school level.
“A little rough around the edges, but a diamond in the rough,” is how legendary Bayonne Times sportswriter Jerry Clougher once described Klumpp.
“I tried to get along with everyone,” Klumpp said. “I was always fair, but if someone got tough with me, I got tough right back.”
Klumpp worked his way up the Little League umpiring ranks to where he presided over the Little League Eastern Regional in Bristol, Connecticut, in 1993 and eventually worked the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. in 1997.
Klumpp also presided over the Big League softball World Series in Portland, Oregon, in 1994.
“Those trips were costly,” Klumpp said. “They came out of my own pocket.”
Imagine that, someone who was volunteering his time as an umpire had to pay for his own travel to work the prestigious tournaments.
“What I said at the time was that there were only 12 umpires in the whole world who were picked to umpire the Little League World Series,” Klumpp said. “That’s like hitting the Pick Six in the lottery.”
Taking the trophy
Sunday afternoon, at the annual NJSIAA Hall of Fame Coaches Luncheon at the Pines Manor in Edison, Klumpp received the most prestigious honor of his long career.
He was presented with the National Federation of High Schools Softball Official of the Year. Klumpp received the award from his longtime friend and colleague Mike Lynch, who helped Klumpp move up the ladder of umpire success over the years.
“He started me with ASA and put me on all the tough games with him,” Klumpp said. “That’s how I got pretty strong as an umpire.”
Klumpp was also accompanied at the dinner by a crew of umpires who have become known as “Klumpp’s Umps,” highly respected umpires such as Dave Martinez, who has carved out a niche for himself in professional baseball, Gary Parlotti, the rules interpreter in Hudson County high school softball, and Michael Lillis, who umpired his first state championship game last year.
“If you were a ‘Klumpp’s Ump,’ then you were someone special,” Klumpp said. “Dave Martinez is my pride and joy. He’s making something of himself now.”
Klumpp is still active in high-school softball umpiring, on tap to work the Hoboken vs. Bayonne game next week and a North Bergen game the week after that.
He spends half the year at a home in Sunrise, Florida, “where I like to watch the sun set,” Klumpp laughs, but the rest of the time he’s in his native Bayonne, umpiring games.
“I like it,” Klumpp said. “I like being around the kids. It was a great honor, receiving this award. I never thought I’d still be doing it after all these years. Heck, I never thought I’d be doing it at all. I came up the hard way.”
Added Klumpp, “If you just go out there and think it’s easy, you have another thing coming. But we were able to make a lot of good kids become good standup guys as umpires.