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Easton, Redding Girls Chase Cheer Title

EASTON AND REDDING, Conn. – The Aspetuck Wildcats cheerleaders have won four straight American Youth Football and Cheerleading national championships. The group of seventh- and eighth-grade girls from Easton and Redding is taking the first step this weekend in the drive for five.

Aspetuck will compete in the local round of competition Saturday in New Milford. If it wins, Aspetuck will advance to regional competition next month. Several of the girls have been with the team for the entire run, which began when they were in fourth grade.

“We’re doing pretty good, we have a good chance this year,’’ said Claudia Gombos, an eighth-grader from Easton who has been on all four previous national championship teams.

Aspetuck includes girls from Easton and Redding. A few girls from Weston were on earlier teams but left when a new program was introduced in that town. The Wildcats also had some girls age-out from last year’s team, and a new class of seventh-graders has joined.

“We’re trying to get them to understand the process,’’ said Darlene Wallin, Aspetuck’s coach. “It’s a lot of hard work. I don’t think they realized how much work was required, but they’re stepping up.”

Wallin, who has been affiliated with the program for eight years, took over from Maria Terrell, who joined the Weston program. She is assisted by Ornella Socci, who also worked with last year’s team, and Kathy Gombos, who returned after stepping aside for a few years. The program was choreographed by Redding's Carol DeSalva, a former Joel Barlow cheerleader who made the cheer squad at the University of North Carolina.

The team begins practice in August. The veterans have been guiding the new members, Angela Socci said. “We’re trying to get them a feel for competition,’’ Socci said. “It’s a new thing for them.”

The Wildcats miss their friends who moved on, Julianne Licamele said. “They were a big part of this team,’’ she said. “We wish they were here. But we’re supporting them, and they’re supporting us. When we found out some weren’t coming back, it was hard to deal with. We’ll just try to do our best.”

The girls know that they are under a microscope because of their past success. But that experience is helpful as the competition heats up. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, and it kind of comes naturally now,’’ Nikki Wallin said. “But having so many new girls scares me a little bit. I don’t know how they’re going to react to crowd or how they’re going to perform. But I think we’ll do pretty good again this year.”

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