A banner attached to a wall in the Brownwood Lionettes' practice room bears words of advice:

“Dance to express not to impress.”

As the two-a-days summer camp for the 28-member drill team ended Monday, 14-year sponsor Stacee Hetzel explained the meaning:

“I want the girls to not worry necessarily about the looks of it all — what they look like,” Hetzel said. “I want them to learn more about what they feel like when they’re dancing. I want them to be able to express themselves through dance. I want this to be their outing every day.

“Whenever they come in here, this is where they should feel more safe, more at home, the most comfortable. This is the room it should happen in.”

This year’s squad is ahead of schedule in its preparation for the start of football season, when the Lionettes will dance during halftime performances and at pep rallies.

“The officers are real take-charge,” Hetzel said. “All my upperclassmen are helpful, and my new members and freshmen just seem to fall into place. Things just seem to be rolling very smoothly.”

For the second year, Hetzel has help from former Lionette Bethany Pittman, who graduated in 2015. Pittman, who has known Hetzel since Pittman was 9, went on to graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in communications. She is working with the Lionettes on a volunteer basis as she takes courses to become certified as a teacher.

Pittman and Hetzel have a similar hope: that Pittman will be able to take over eventually from Hetzel as the Lionettes’ sponsor.

Pittman said she hoped to work at an ad agency and dance professionally. She knew she would eventually move back to Brownwood, but that happened sooner than she’d planned after “life happened,” Pittman said.

Pittman moved back in 2018 just before the start of the school year and began working with the Lionettes.

To understand the importance of Pittman’s arrival in Brownwood, that story begins on a Saturday night in 2017. Hetzel, her husband, Keith, and daughter CarolAnn were returning home from a trip to Weatherford in the family’s Suburban.

On U.S. Highway 377 near the Blanket golf course, a vehicle traveling in front of the Hetzels struck and killed a bull in the road. With no chance for Keith to avoid the dead animal, their Suburban crashed into the bull’s body, somersaulted end-over-end and embarked on a wild ride, tumbling and rolling.

The Hetzels were transported in ambulances but were not seriously injured — so it seemed at the time.

Stacee later developed issues from a neck injury and was prescribed physical therapy. Her doctors later determined she needed neck surgery and scheduled a day in August 2018 — the day Lionettes' two-a-days were also scheduled to start.

Hetzel was frantic as she tried to figure out what to do about the Lionettes. She had no one to help her.

A few days before her surgery, Hetzel received an unexpected text from Pittman.

“I was sitting there freaking out, trying to figure out how to get everything together,” Hetzel recalled. “And Bethany sends me a text and says ‘I’m moving back to town,’ and I was, like, ‘yes you are!’”

In her text, Pittman asked Hetzel if there was anything she could do with the Lionettes. Pittman was unaware of Hetzel’s dilemma.

“I had no idea this was happening at all,” Pittman said, recalling how she’d sent the text while sitting in her apartment living room in Arlington.

“I said ‘yes! I need you!’” Hetzel said.

Hetzel put Pittman in charge of the Lionettes’ two-a-days while Hetzel had her neck surgery. Hetzel used words including “huge help” and “lifesaver” to describe Pittman.