It was a bit unusual, Watertown-Mayer gymnastics coach Steven Hangartner thought last Friday night, to see some of his alumni gymnasts milling about the school before his team’s season-opening home meet against Rockford.
“I figured they were just hanging around and came to watch,” Hangartner said. “I thought it was a little out of the ordinary, but sometimes they do come to meets.”
But Hangartner was right. This night certainly was out of the ordinary. Dozens of alumni gymnasts showed up to surprise Hangartner and his wife, Deb, at the meet that kicked off their 25th year of coaching Watertown-Mayer gymnastics. The gymnasts represented each of the Hangartners’ teams since 1988, and filed in immediately following the introduction of this year’s team. Neither Hangartner had any idea it was going to happen.
“I saw the first few come in and I thought maybe it was just four or five that were coming together, but I looked up and they just kept coming, one after the other,” Hangartner said.
For the Hangartners, both Steve and Deb, it was an emotional night, or least an emotional start to the night. Deb noticeably wiped away tears as the gymnasts filed in, and again while Activities Director Mary Haugen addressed the crowd.
“When they came walking in, every one of those girls you know so well because you’ve worked with them pretty much 6 years in the high school program, and a lot of them took KIPS, so we maybe knew them for 10 years — their whole childhood,” Steve Hangartner said. “So when they came walking up, we just had all these memories of every one of them. It was just overwhelming.”
For Deb, the most touching part of the night was listening to several of the alumni talk about how the Hangartners had made a difference in their lives, not just in the gym. Deb said that’s exactly what they strive to do, and it was humbling to see how appreciated it is.
“I couldn’t believe it when they all came walking in,” she said. “It just meant so much to us. You want to win and you want to have a winning program, but I think our main goal would be to make a difference in kids’ lives. That was just touching that they would take time out of their schedule to come.”
Deb Hangartner also stressed the importance of having Janet Emery as part of the program as an assistant. While she hasn’t been around as long as the Hangartners, she has been a part of the program for about 15 years, Deb said, and has played a crucial role.
“If it wasn’t for Janet Emery, I don’t know if we would have been albe to be here for 25 years,” Deb Hangartner said. “She’s done a ton. She’s really connected to the girls, she’s loyal to the program, and she just does so much behind the scenes. She’s a key person in this program.”
Several alumni gymnasts spoke during a ceremony before the meet, and this year’s captains also presented each of the Hangartners with a gift. Since taking over the program in 1988, the Hangartner’s have amassed a 181-32 record in dual meets. They’ve had 10 teams qualify for the state tournament, including two second-place finishes and two third-place finishes.