But once it became apparent his daughter, Myia, might get a chance to compete for a top-level college gymnastics program – Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Louisiana State and Michigan were all interested – his devotion to the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets was put on hold.
A few weeks ago, Louisiana State University gave Myia the call she had been waiting for, offering her a five-year, full-ride scholarship to compete in gymnastics for the Tigers when she graduates high school in 2014.
“I promised Myia that I would never pick one team or ever buy a hat or clothing or anything like that for a team until we knew where she was going. And that was just kind of an inside joke that we had,” said Hambrick, who became the proud owner of an LSU Tigers hat as soon as Myia gave her verbal commitment.
Hambrick wears many other hats within the Sheriff’s Office, where he does everything from drug and gang prevention, to supervising the school resource officers, to talking to students at Douglas County’s schools about making good choices around drugs, bullying and gangs.
He is also the JV girls soccer coach at Alexander High, a job he sort of fell into about three years ago after revealing he was a soccer fanatic by asking for a Cougars jersey during one of his visits to talk to students and teachers.
“I just constantly try to be a positive role model when so many negative role models are available,” Hambrick said.
Hambrick and his wife, Laurel, have clearly been good role models to Myia. Laurel has coached Myia for most of the last 16 years, starting with a “parent and tot” class when Myia was 10 months old, and Jesse has been Myia’s biggest fan.
Myia, who is 17 years old and a junior honors student at Temple High in Carroll County, has trained with her mom at the West Georgia Gymnastics Center in Villa Rica for the past seven years. Prior to that, Laurel and Tekia Smith coached Myia at the recreation department in Bowdon.
In 22 years of coaching, Laurel says she doesn’t know of any other gymnast from the west Georgia area who has gone on to compete at the collegiate level.
“It’s a tough sport and there’s so few that get very far,” Laurel said.
Myia’s strengths in gymnastics are on the balance beam, floor and vault, with the four-inch wide, 16-feet long beam being her best event.
“Honestly, it’s not my favorite,” Myia said of the beam. “I’m just good at it. I guess it comes easy. There’s not really much in gymnastics itself that really scares me. I’m not held back by fear or anything.”
Her only weakness, Laurel said, is on the bars, which ironically is Myia’s favorite event. LSU associate head coach Jay Clark, who recruited Myia when he was Georgia’s head coach prior to this season, specializes in coaching bars. Laurel is confident Myia can master the bars with a top-notch college coach working with her.
The Hambricks liked Georgia a lot, but the Gym Dogs were out of scholarships to offer and told Myia she could come to Athens as a walk-on. Alabama, which has won the last two NCAA titles, was also interested but Myia’s strengths didn’t mesh with the Tide’s current needs. Michigan was ready to make an offer, Laurel said, but the Hambricks wanted Myia as close to home as possible and preferred an SEC school.
When the Hambricks took their unofficial visit to Baton Rouge earlier this year, they got a subtle hint that LSU was where Myia belonged.
During an inspirational video shown to an auditorium full of recruits from all sports, the music to begin the presentation was the same instrumental from the movie “Inception” that Myia uses for her floor routine.
“We’ve never heard that music anywhere other than in the movie,” Laurel said. “So when they played that, my husband was elbowing me like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Myia’s floor routine music.’”
Myia’s history with the Tigers stretches back 150 years. Her great-great-great grandfather was one of the original LSU Tigers during the Civil War era, a neat fact the Hambricks learned from Myia’s great-uncle, Kenneth Startup, Jr, an LSU alum, after she committed.
Growing up watching college football with her friends and family, Myia said she never really took sides. But that’s already starting to change.
“I’ve never had any type of interest in what team is playing or who wins or anything like that. I just watch it, but I don’t really know what’s going on,” she said. “I’m learning slowly. I usually just root for whoever I’m with is rooting for. I guess now I’m rooting for LSU.”