Balancing Greatness

Words By Matt Campbell Photos by Erin Hixson Photography

It is said that those who can find balance between the pursuit of exceptional achievements and genuine fulfillment through their daily lives are balancing greatness.

Mrs. Deborah Hager Luebbert exemplifies this idea. Sustaining a lifelong love for, and incredible success in the sport of gymnastics, she found and mastered a way of sharing and further developing a similar love and success in the sport for others, specifically hundreds, if not thousands of young children here in Richmond Hill.

A country girl raised in Mississippi, Deborah has never shied away from hard work. Take a drive to Sunbury and you’ll likely find her aboard her tractor mowing a pasture or caring for her horses. Known to most as “Mrs. Deborah,” she is a well-known figure in Richmond Hill and a local celebrity amongst the children, who wait with eager anticipation for her to call them by name and hug their neck as they line up and get ready to begin their after-school gymnastics lessons.

Deborah has an impressive athletic history, saying she first fell in love with performing arts through dance at the age of six. By the time she was ten, she was dedicating many hours a day to learning gymnastics. With the support of her loving parents, she was afforded the opportunity to attend summer training camps and competitions under coaches Russell McConnell (who also coached Olympic Gymnast Cathy Rigby) and Tom Steele (who later coached at the University of Alabama). In 1976, as a high school senior, Deborah became the All-Around State Champion for the State of Mississippi, advancing to the Regional US Competition and US Nationals. Upon graduation, she received gymnastics scholarship offers from Louisiana State University (LSU), Millsaps College, among others, eventually accepting a full ride to the Mississippi University for Women (MUW). Known nationally as “The W,” it was the first public women’s college in the United States. Deborah would compete there in the all-around competition for four years.

After college, Deborah began coaching at The W, as well as starting the Aberdeen Gymnastics Academy and the Columbus YMCA’s gymnastics program. She also married and started a family, having two children, Chrissy and Tommy. In 1983, her family moved to Georgia, and she coached at the Savannah Gymnastics Academy and Jumpin’ Beans, before taking the role as Gymnastics Director for Bryan County Schools’ Community Education Program, where she has been for the last 35 years. In addition to leading the Community Ed program in Bryan County, she also directed the Fort Stewart Gymnastics program for twenty-one

years (1989-2010). Although she’s been offered multiple opportunities to start a children’s gymnastics program elsewhere, she has remained dedicated to Bryan County Schools Community Education program  because of their commitment to the community and their love for the children.

Through the years I’ve watched Mrs. Deborah’s magical skills of motivation from a front row seat, realizing just how much of a significant impact she has on her students. After all, a person must be special if their son-in-law is willing to write an article about them.

I’ve enjoyed many stories about the generations of students who have benefitted from her dedication. One of my favorites is about the time in 1988 when legendary RHHS Basketball Coach, Jimmy Hires, had his basketball team take her gymnastics class to improve their agility and speed. That team went on to win the first of three State Championships. Many former students have gone on to compete at the national level, become collegiate cheerleaders at universities across the US, and found great success in other sports, too. But, Deborah says even more special to her is now teaching a second generation of students, and seeing the parents she once called students through the eyes of their children.

“Every child who has walked through the doors of the gymnastics auditorium has added to the blessings of my career,” says Mrs. Deborah, whose goal has always been to lift every student up, giving them the confidence and strength needed to conquer all their goals in sports (and in life). She strives to instill in them a foundational belief in their potential for greatness. “I think I’ve accomplished this by focusing on skill progression in a safe manner, from beginner to advanced, combined with body awareness. I try to help students understand what it takes to be an athlete, both mentally and physically,” she explains. She teaches her students that by moving with the correct body alignment, with enough effort, they can flip faster and reach higher.

Mrs. Deborah’s sustained success is attributed to her love of the sport and holding to the mantra that is on display in her office, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it, is your gift back to God.” The dedication to her work has not gone unnoticed. In 2023, her gymnastics program was recognized as the Best Youth Organization in Bryan County, and she was recognized in the book Legacy of the Blues—A Century of Athletics at The W!

“I know God’s plan for me is to be right where I am today and I haven’t even contemplated retirement. As long as God allows me to be a part of so many young lives, teaching this sport that I love, I will be here.”