The term "family" is thrown around quite a bit when it comes to athletic teams, particularly successful ones, whether it really fits or not.

The WIAA D2 state gymnastics champions from Whitefish Bay, however, who claimed their ninth overall title and their fifth since 2009 on March 4, lives that thought in all forms.

Take the lovely video of the ride home from Wisconsin Rapids early afternoon on March 6, when the Blue Dukes' bus, fully replete with a Bay Police Department escort, was pulling up in front of school. You see the excited athletes and then pan over to a laughing Liniewski sitting right behind the giant team teddy bear.

When asked about the ride in later, senior team leader Mary Claire Potter, who earned four individual medals, could only laugh.

She was looking ahead and saw that her mom's car was directly ahead of the police cruiser, and because the cruiser had its red and blue lights going, Potter thought to herself, "Oh my God, did my mom really get pulled over?"

But that was not the case at all because this was a family celebration, not a crisis. The camera then pans over the athletes again, and then everyone points ahead again because right by the field house entrance of the school was a large group of parents and supporters welcoming them home and holding up a "State Champs" sign.

"It really is one huge family," Potter said. "My mom, Mrs. Yurkowitz, the Dallets, the Kenlays, they're all a huge group of friends. They're always there (at the meets), and they always bring a big bag of pom-pons, and there are always team dinners at everyone's house.

"We're always together, and it is really fun."

It's not by accident, Liniewski said, and it begins with the kids themselves

"They're so much fun," she said."I can't begin to tell you all the little stuff that they do. Just how playful they are. How they lock arms (and walk in together). They look different than the other teams. They really do have each others' back."

"It's just what we do."

They also let off steam with the best of them as team state traditions include running over to the local Wal-Mart to stuff their faces with junk food after the meet and to get Liniewski a special state meet "present" (which was a tub of lard this year). They walked through the Wal-Mart gate doing handstands to get the job done.

One year, the present was a shopping cart banging against Liniewski's hotel door, and this year, in light of Liniewski talking about how her family cooked things when she was a child, there was a big tub of lard awaiting her on the morning of March 6.

But they also know what's important, and as a result, they have a sense of the moment.

An example of that can be seen in another piece of video from March 5 after the individual events competition. Blue Duke junior Aly Yurkowitz, who had finished second in three of the four individual events, was sitting anxiously between teammates awaiting the results of the all-around competition.

This was especially important to her on two fronts, one of which was a less-than-stellar individual competition round in last year's state meet and the other was more personal.

"That was really on my mind," she said.

Everyone thought she was in the running for the all-around title this time around, but no one was sure. All they did know that she had a great score of 37.15, but that was it. The uncertainty came from the fact that Sam Krueger of team runner-up River Falls had won both the vault and the floor exercise and was also in serious contention for the title.

"I just told her, 'I want you to be prepared that you might not have this,'" Liniewski said, "... but then they announced the second-place person with a score of 36 whatever and Aly just put her head in her hands and started crying. She wanted to win the all-around title so badly for her mom and now she had.

"I just told her 'Go up there. Give your mom a hug,' and she ran into the stands and did," Liniewski said.

One of the parents took this beautiful photo of the crying daughter and the happy mom. The whole scene left Liniewski and many others involved teary-eyed.

"I was still really emotional at that moment, but being able to do that was one of the best feelings in the world," Aly said.

Karen Yurkowitz is in the midst of her second fight with breast cancer and has been the focal point of a lot of Aly and the team's attention. She has continued to remain part of the team, helping out with decorations and coming to every meet despite arduous rounds of chemo. Aly said she had a particularly good round of chemo recently and had good energy for the state meet.

The team support has been monumental to keeping the pair in good spirits, Aly added.

"We'll all in it for each other," she said, "and I tell everyone that Mary (Liniewski) is my second mom ... there's a lot of love for one another out there, and we're all great friends. The parents are always helping at the meets, and everyone is always supportive of one another."

That includes people like the parents of team member Libby Thomas, who run the concession stand at every home meet, Thomas did not see much varsity time this winter, but Liniewski said her parents did not complain; they just did their jobs and did them very well.

Liniewski was immensely grateful for their selflessness and all the other kindnesses great and small that helped this team be a success on so many levels this season.

"There was a lot of magic involved," Liniewski said. "Karen Yurkowitz, all the parents. We did really run on the concept of team and family here. The parents are so involved (in a good way), and then to see Aly win the all-around and all the elation on all the parents' faces."

As noted, team and family.

"We know when we get in here freshman year that it is not all about me but about the team," Potter said. "Everything is for the benefit of the team. Other coaches come up and say how impressed they are with us (on our unity)."

And that unity leads to success.

"It still hasn't caught up with me yet," Aly added.


9th overall crown

PREVIOUS TITLES: 1989 (Class A), 1995 (D1), 1996 (D1), 2001 (D2), 2009 (D2), 2011 (D2), 2012 (D2), 2014 (D2), 2016 (D2).

TEAM SCORES (Top five): Whitefish Bay (140.5667), River Falls (135.8833), Mount Horeb (135.5167), Viroqua co-op (133.45) and Ashland (132.75).

BAY TOP-6 MEDALS: Yurkowitz — first in the all-around (37.15), fourth on vault (9.333) and second on the uneven bars (9.183), floor exercise (9.433) and balance beam (9.2), and Potter — fifth on beam (9.1), sixth on floor exercise (9.233), third on vault (9.333) and fifth in the all-around (36.133).