Growing up in the small town of Clifford, Pa., Lou Chillemi played all the usual sports, eventually developing into a pretty good baseball infielder.
"I was pretty good with the glove but I couldn't hit a lick," he said.
But eventually, Chillemi found that the most fulfilling position on the diamond was behind the plate, and not as a catcher.
"I often joke that I was a much better umpire than I was an athlete," said Chillemi, who is being inducted into the Community Sports Hall of Fame after almost four decades of service as an umpire.
After graduating from Lock Haven State College in 1971, Chillemi moved to Howard County to begin his career as an educator. He started at Atholton Elementary School (1971-1977) before moving to Steven's Forest Elementary School, where he became assistant principal in 1980.
As a young teacher in the early 1970s, Chillemi found himself looking to make a few extra bucks during the summer months, and rather than paint houses, he found a secondary source of income in a familiar venue.
"Early on I was playing slow pitch softball in Howard County and Montgomery County and a fellow teacher said you could do pretty well over the summer (umpiring)," he said.
Chillemi continued to play softball, but as his career progressed — he moved to Hammond Elementary in 1985 and became principal of Lisbon Elementary in 1992, and Longfellow in 1999 — his playing days waned. However, the umpiring opportunities — specifically fast pitch, which was featured in the 1996 Olympics — grew in stature, forcing Chillemi into a double-life.
"By 1991 I had completely stopped playing," he said. "Fastpitch just exploded after it was in the Olympics. ... When you're in sync with the catcher and the pitcher is throwing BBs into the strike zone, that's a great feeling."
In 1991 the Amateur Softball Association held its Junior Olympic 18-U Girls Fast Pitch Nationals in Columbia, and Chillemi was one of the umpires asked to work the tournament.
"That was a big deal for Howard County to land that tournament," Chillemi said. "To be chosen as one of the umpires to work it was quite an honor and that was it, there was no turning back."
Chillemi has worked multiple ASA national tournaments, Maryland high school championships and women's professional fast pitch games. In 2009 he was elected to the Softball Umpires of Maryland Hall of Fame. And to this day, Chillemi is on staff with seven Division I collegiate softball conferences, working games up and down the east coast.
But even as his umpiring résumé grew, Chillemi's guidance was still in great demand back home.
In 1998, Chillemi was called on by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks to mediate a troubling situation. Umpires — claiming that they were owed money for previously worked games — were refusing to work assigned games.
"The slow pitch leagues asked if I would step in and try to remedy the situation. We were going to start fresh," said Chillemi, who worked with John Dye and the late Don Gardner to reorganize the Howard County Umpires Association into Howard County Officials Inc. "In about a week we were able to put the wheels back on the car. ... It needed to be taken care of, so you take care of it. Looking back I didn't realize how close we were to not having a league."
Within a week, every game in Howard County had a working umpire back behind the plate.
Chillemi "led the organization back onto strong financial footing and instilled professional pride," according to Dye.
In March of 2011, Chillemi and his wife of more than 40 years, Carol, moved to Greencastle, Pa., to be closer to their daughter, Jacquelyn, and grandchildren.
But Chillemi will always have a second home in Howard County.
"A young person out of a small school in Pennsylvania moving to Maryland right after college, and the opportunity that the growth of Howard County presented to me both in teaching and softball, I was just very fortunate," Chillemi said. "You have to walk through that door, but people have to open that door for you, too."