NEW PALESTINE — Although technically the new one in charge, Debbie Bruns is no stranger around the halls of New Palestine. A former Dragon gymnast herself, Bruns replaces Jenny Musselman as the program’s new head coach.

Bruns, whose daughter graduated from New Palestine with Musselman, has been involved with the sport ever since her days at the school. A 1979 graduate, Bruns stood by her passion and started a 20-year coaching career at Wrights Gymnastics Academy in Greenwood. From 1999-2009, she was Warren Central’s head coach and later opened her own gym in Greensburg.

In 2011, she came back to New Palestine to coach her daughter, Rachel, on the cheerleading team and was asked to help out with gymnastics, as well, as an assistant.

Bruns, who has been married to her husband, Mark, for 37 years, obliged and continued coaching at Gymnastics Unlimited, a club in Indianapolis, after deciding to shut her own gym down. The drive to Greensburg became too much for a mother with a family and children of her own, including three girls and three boys.

Although she’s had little time to make all the changes she wants for the upcoming season, the longtime club coach is already beginning to leave her fingerprints on the program.

“I come at it as more of a conditioning program,” Bruns said of her coaching style. “I want to keep the fun alive, but I am also very competitive. I judged and have just been in the sport from every aspect. I want these kids to look at it as more than having fun. We can really set some records here.

“One of the things we’ve done this year is we are no longer practicing at the elementary. We are practicing at Gymnastics Unlimited, hoping that will limit some of the injuries. Before, it took 45 minutes to set up (the equipment) and 45 minutes to tear it down. That’s hard on the kids.”

Musselman, who took over a program in “shambles,” decided to step down to spend more time with her family and three children. The Dragons advanced past sectional action in eight of the nine seasons with Musselman at the helm.

Last season, New Palestine finished second at the Connersville Sectional with 101.775 points as a team. The host Spartans won the team title with a score of 102.225.

From there, the Dragons went on to finish fourth at the Columbus East Regional, missing the cut by approximately seven points. Columbus North, who took the regional title, went on to win the state championship last season.

Lost to graduation for New Palestine were veterans Annabelle Dockins and Tara Morey, who each placed in the top 20 (all-around) in regional competition last season. Dockins also won an individual sectional championship on the floor exercise.

Senior Faith Land, sophomore Sarah Thompson, junior Bailey Watkins and junior Taylor Brown all return with postseason experience, though. On vault, Land was 16th at the regional, while Brown finished in 22nd. On the floor exercise, Thompson placed 18th and Watkins was 22nd.

However, the team will be much smaller this season.

“We had a lot of kids last year who came out and had never competed before,” Bruns said. “It was fun, but it also held us back a little bit. We had to take two buses everywhere we went. We want them to compete in at least two events.

“There is a lot of talent here.”

Bruns also noted senior Emily Heighway and freshman Grace Shanahan as individuals who can make a difference this season.

The Dragons first contest this season will be on Jan. 10 against New Castle and Connersville. On Jan. 19, the Dragons travel to Columbus North to face the defending state champs. The final meet, against Shelbyville, will conclude on Feb. 21 with postseason action to begin at the end of the month.

“Our first meet is one of our toughest of the year,” Bruns said. “Hopefully we can be ready for it. The kids are excited.”

2016-17 Roster

New Palestine Gymnastics

Emily Heighway

Faith Land

Bailey Watkins

Grace Shanahan

Sarah Thompson

Rileigh Cox

Emma Edwards

Alyssa Boothe

Shelby Baar

Taylor Brown

Katie Hoffman

Kinsey Dilley

Alex Black

2016-17 Schedule

1/10 – at Connersville/New Castle, 6:30 p.m.

1/12 – vs. Shelbyville, 6 p.m.

1/19 – at Columbus North, 6 p.m.

1/21 – vs. Richmond, 10 a.m.

1/24 – vs. Morristown/Scecina, 6 p.m.

1/26 – at Roncalli, 6 p.m.

1/31 – vs. Noblesville, 6 p.m.

2/4 – at Rushville, 10 a.m.

2/8 – vs. Muncie Central, 6:30 p.m.

2/11 – at Bloomington South, 11 a.m.

2/14 – vs. Franklin Central, 6 p.m.

2/21 – at Shelbyville, 6 p.m.

Author photo
Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or