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BY GAYLE SIMONE, valley dispatch staff

METHUEN — They dance. They yell. They do gymnastics. They do stunts. They are between the ages of 8 and 10.

They are also the Merrimack Valley Conference and Eastern Massachusetts cheerleading champions.

This Methuen team is in the Junior Pee Wee Division, and the 31 youngsters on the squad competed on Nov. 26 at the DCU Centre in Worcester for the right to go to the National Dance and Cheer Regional competition in Orlando, Fla.

The squad came up two points short though, finishing third behind Medford and Everett. The first- and second-place finishers earn a spot in Orlando.

Cindy Buco, director of Methuen Pop Warner cheerleading, is extremely proud of her team.

“We were one of 14 teams competing,” Buco said. “And the first Methuen team to make it this far. Coming in third was a huge accomplishment. I am so proud of them. It’s so hard to put into words. It was truly a phenomenal experience.”

Buco said some times practices are rough because of the maturity level, but it all changes during the competitions.

“We have such a large team and they are still very young.” Buco said. “But when they hit the mat (during competitions) it all changes. They shine when they hit the mat. It’s unbelievable how much maturity they have when they compete.”

Junior Pee Wee head coach Debbie DiZoglio works with her assistant April DelSolia and Methuen High School student volunteers Lindsey Korn and Amanda Getchell on putting together the routines the squad performs.

“I don’t have a cheering background,” the first-year coach said. “So, it was a collaborative effort with the whole staff. The girls (Korn and Getchell) put together the dance part of it and the rest was all collaboration and it worked.”

DiZoglio and Del Solia stressed they teach the girls that winning and losing is not important as long as they try.

“We tell the girls if they do lose, no tears,” DelSolia said. “As long as they tried their best, they should be proud and happy with themselves.”

Both DiZoglio and Del Solia have daughters, Alysha DiZoglio and Alyssa DelSolia, on the team, and that they say is not an easy part of coaching.

“It makes it 100 percent harder (to coach),” DiZoglio said. “The other girls follow them. This means we are harder on them, even if they are not the ones who did it.”

Alysha DiZoglio, 10, couldn’t control her happiness after winning the MVC championship. “I’m so excited,” she said. “I love doing the stunts and yelling. I just want to win (the next competition).”

Alysha got her wish when the Junor Pee Wees won the Eastern Massachusetts Division title on Nov. 13 at Tsongas Arena in Lowell.

Buco says she’s looking forward to next year and repeating as champions.

“The hope is to get them to the next level,” Buco said. “You never expect your team to win championships, but when it happens it’s unbelievable. I’m looking forward to doing this again next year and making it to Nationals.”

Methuen is a force to be reckoned with. The Pee Wee squad was not the only team to be deemed champions this year — the Midgets also claimed the title of 2005 MVC champion.