Anyone who knows gymnastics can recognize a great name in the sport.
There is Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comenci, Keri Strug, Shannon Miller, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Lukin, and most recently, Gabby Douglas. Behind all these great young women are their talented and humble coaches, some examples being Bella Koroli and Liang Chow.
Anyone who has ever been a gymnast in Watertown, or known a gymnast in Watertown, or has aspired to be a gymnast in Watertown, also knows the greatness associated with the names of Deb and Steve Hangartner (aka Deb and Mr. H).
As a young couple, they came to Watertown when they were in their 20s. Mr. H had a cool red Honda Prelude that all students envied. Twenty years later when Deb was pushing it down the highway with her own two feet, the men of Watertown were envious that Steve had such a wonderful wife.
Mr. H always used his wit and humor to motivate those around him. He started promoting gymnastics in the community by doing back flips in class and pretending to blow in the wind while hanging onto a flagpole. It is said that 25 years later, he is still doing the same crazy stunts and even more students enroll in his gymnastics program, all to be part of the greatness and FUN.
Of course, we know that behind every great man is an even greater woman. Deb, always so humble and sweet, would never describe herself in that way, but those of you that know her well know that she gleams of nothing but greatness. At one point in their coaching career, Deb also was on the Reebok Performance team for the Timberwolves. No beam or floor routine in the state compared to the Watertown gymnast’s routines all perfectly choreographed by Deb Hangartner.
Of course, that meant many hours of bobble passes, back to back floor routines, and perfecting those leaps and jumps. And, no Christmas workout was complete without Deb’s finely choreographed routine to “Jingle Bell Rock.”
This year marks 25 years that Deb and Mr. H have been coaching gymnastics in this small town community. Deb and Mr. H have had many accomplishments in those 25 years. There were 9 team qualifications to the State Gymnastics Tournament, countless individual gymnasts that qualified for the state tournament, many trophies won, Coach of the Year nominations, and much much more.
But, probably their biggest accomplishment as a couple was becoming parents to two boys, Ryan and PJ. Not only have Deb and Mr. H been accomplished in their role as coaches, but they have also been well accomplished in their role as parents. They provided their boys the same love, joy, and encouragement that they bestowed upon many gymnasts that had the opportunity to cross their path.
For the past 25 years, Deb and Mr. H have played a vital role in teaching young women and some young men the joys of being part of team and the triumphs and tribulations that come along with being part of that team. They taught many of us the importance of working hard to achieve your goals and instilled in many of us that anything is possible if you at least try. I know when I think back to my days as a gymnast at Watertown-Mayer, I have nothing but pleasant memories that make warm smiles dance across my face.
I can honestly say that Deb and Mr. H taught me many things in those years that have helped shape who I am today. Witnessing the outpouring of joy to celebrate their career, I know that I am not the only person that holds Deb and Mr. H in the highest regard. The community of Watertown embraces their greatness and generation after generation has been impacted by their positive influence.
We all have destinies to fulfill, but those that know Deb and Mr. H know that they have gone far beyond fulfilling their own destinies by being such strong, positive role models to young people of this community for 25 years. God gave all of us special talents, but it takes special people to recognize those talents and build a strong community around them by using joy, love, determination, celebration, and togetherness.
So, it is with sincere gratitude and respect that we, as a community, should celebrate the greatness that Deb and Steve Hangartner have brought to this small town for the past 25 years. Thank you Deb and Mr. H for building a strong teams, molding strong people, and in turn, building a strong community!
Molly Wingert is a former Watertown-Mayer High School gymnast.