4 former Ellis County drill/dance/cheer members become national champions at college level

By Patty Hullett
For the Daily Light

Clarification: Lauren Lyle, a former Cherokee Charmer Alumni, was mistakenly omitted from the article, “4 former Ellis County drill/dance/cheer members win big at college level” below.  Lyle is in her third year at Dallas Baptist University. Her dance team from DBU recently won a national championship at the National Dance Alliance event in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was DBU’s first-ever win at NDA. Lyle will graduate May 2022 with a Bachelors in English and Masters in Higher Education. She graduated from WHS in 2017. She was a four-year Charmer member, served as Junior Lieutenant, and as Senior 1st Lieutenant her senior year.

Original story: 

Since 1996, cheer and dance teams from top universities throughout the country have gathered in Daytona Beach, Florida, to compete for the national title and coveted golden trophy.

After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, the event returned to the Ocean Center and Daytona Beach Bandshell April 7-11, marking 40 years of competition and 25 years in the city of Daytona Beach.

Texas colleges were well represented at the recent National Dance Alliance (NDA)

contests. In particular, four Ellis County young ladies were included in that elite group of national champions: three former Ennis High School Lionettes and one of the Midlothian Heritage Belles.

An interesting tradition after winning a national championship title is to run into the ocean with costumes/ uniforms on and then take photos with the banner and trophy. 

Ennis High School Lionettes

Emma Howard, 2018 EHS graduate, won with Stephen F. Austin University in the NDA Division I “Pom National Champions” at Daytona Beach, Florida.

Emma Howard is a 2018 EHS graduate. She was the Lionettes Captain on their 30th line from 2017 to 2018. She spent two years at McLennan Community Junior College in Waco and was a vital part of their award-winning dance team there. She then transferred to Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches last year as a junior (2020) and became a member of the Lady Jacks Dance Team. She is part of the recently crowned NDA Division I Pom National Champions. Her group also placed 2nd in Division I Team Performance, which includes jazz, hip-hop, and pom. In addition, the SFA ladies competed in the Dance Team Union competition while they were still in Daytona Beach on April 10; in this contest, they won the Pom and Game Day category.

Emma Howard, 2018 EHS graduate, won with Stephen F. Austin University in the NDA Division I “Pom National Champions” at Daytona Beach, Florida. Here, SFA dancers run into the ocean to celebrate as part of the event's tradition.

The eldest of the former Lionettes, Howard says, “Dancing on the SFA Dance Team has been a huge blessing. It has pushed me mentally and physically, but I cannot imagine being anywhere else; it feels like home. I believe my teammates and coaches will be my biggest supporters in my future endeavors as they are now. Winning a national championship is a big deal in the dance world, but nothing will top the feeling of leaving the finals stage alongside my teammates, knowing we left our hearts on the dance floor. Axe ‘em!”

This national championship marks the SFA Dance Team’s 15th national title.

Brooke Betik, a 2019 EHS graduate, with Southern Methodist
University earned the Division I Game Day National Championship award at the National Cheerleading Association's event in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Brooke Betik was a part of the 31st Lionette Line, and she was the Senior 1st Lieutenant for the group in the 2018-2019 season. She is a 2019 graduate of EHS and is attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She is the lone Ennis young lady to participate in the NCA (National Cheerleading Association) event. Betik's cheerleading unit captured the Division I Game Day National Championship award. This particular division is made up of the pom squad, cheer squad, team mascot, and a few band members. SMU has seven national titles to its credit.

Sarah Reeve, a 2020 graduate of Ennis High School, won a title with McLennan Community College in the NDA Open Division Jazz
National Champions at Daytona Beach, Florida.

Sarah Reeve, the most recent graduate of Ennis High School in 2020, was the co-captain of the 32nd Line of the Ennis Lionettes. Reeve is currently a freshman at McLennan Community College (MCC - a two-year college) and is a member of the NDA Open Division Jazz National Champions. Their group also placed 2nd in the Junior College division of Team Performance, comprised of jazz, hip-hop, and pom. MCC has won nine national titles, and this is the fourth in a row for them in the jazz category.

Director of the Lionettes, Mrs. Tia Hensley, says, “I am so very proud of each of these young ladies. Countless hours are invested behind the scenes in order for those two and a half minutes of dancing to look so polished and perfected. I applaud them, their teams, and their coaches! My assistant, Mrs. Jennifer Howard, and I, as well as the current 33rd Line of the EHS Lionettes, wish them a hearty ‘congratulations’ on this amazing accomplishment.”

Howard and Betik grew up dancing and were a part of Stephanie Strunc Reese’s “GO! Dance” in Ennis. Their former dance instructor explains, “Both of these young ladies have always been excellent dancers. I even put them through my instructor program, where they learned how to teach – and then eventually they got to coach one of my competition teams before they left for college. I am so proud of their hard work and effort to become national champions with their teams.”

Midlothian Heritage Belle

Annabel Gaul, a Midlothian Heritage High graduate, won a national championship with Dallas Baptist University Patriette, its first national title at the National Dance Alliance event in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Annabel Gaul has been a dancer since she was 7 years old. As a Belle at Heritage High School, she enjoyed being a four-year member of the drill and dance team in Midlothian. In her sophomore and junior years, she served as 1st Lieutenant, and in her senior year (2018-2019), she was the group’s captain.

Gaul is currently attending Dallas Baptist University in Dallas as a DBU sophomore, majoring in business management with an expected graduation date of May 2023. She says, “This is my first year as a DBU Patriette. ... It was extremely exciting for DBU to win its first national title. The Patriettes have been competing at NDA for the past seven years, and before this year the highest we had placed was 3rd. Reflecting back on the program’s history, the first time the Patriettes went to NDA, they didn’t make it to finals, and now we are national champions!"

Annabel Gaul, a Midlothian Heritage High graduate, won a national championship with Dallas Baptist University Patriette, its first national title at the National Dance Alliance event in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Gaul adds that this year her team competed in pom in its first year competing in anything other then jazz. "DBU was entered in the open division, which means that there was a combination of community colleges, D3 and D2 schools. We had 18 girls with us in Daytona, but only 16 girls were competing because of a limit on how many dancers could be on the mat," she said. "What made this year so interesting is that in the open pom category there was only one other team, Blinn College, neighbors to Texas A&M in College Station. Blinn College has won the pom category for the past six years, so we were extremely nervous being their only competitor. Not only was it amazing to win a national title, but it also was so exhilarating to beat the six-time national champion.”

Gaul continues, “For the first time in my dance career, I’m not dancing for myself and my own agenda. But instead, I’m bettering and pushing myself for the girl next to me. Dancing is fun, but what makes Patriettes special isn’t the national title – it’s the undeniable bond that is living and breathing within my team. I fully believe that we won our national title because of the unity that even the judges who have never met us could see.”

Director for the Heritage Belles, Tiffany Richey, remarks, “I am so proud of Annabel for following her heart and pursuing dance in college. Annabel was meant to be on a stage and is a spectacular performer! I was so excited when I heard the DBU Patriettes won their first national title at NDA in Daytona, and I know that Annabel and her team have more titles headed their way in years to come."