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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    One year after ‘Polkey’

    The late Shawntinice Polks jersey is the first of a UA womens basketball player to hang from the rafters in McKale Center. Today marks the one-year anniversary of Polkeys death, which the team is still struggling to move on from.
    The late Shawntinice Polk’s jersey is the first of a UA women’s basketball player to hang from the rafters in McKale Center. Today marks the one-year anniversary of ‘Polkey’s’ death, which the team is still struggling to move on from.

    It was the shock of the sports world, a 22-year-old athlete in the prime of her life – and her athletic career – collapsing in what came to be her second home, McKale Center, and later passing away on a dark day in Arizona sports history.

    When a pulmonary blood clot ended Shawntinice Polk’s life all too early one year ago today, the Arizona women’s basketball team lost much more than one of the best athletes in its history. As the team’s media guide so aptly put it last year, Polk “”was a friend to all, a gift to all who knew her.””

    Rarely a description of Polk – better known as “”Polkey”” around the community – exists that doesn’t involve a smile on her face, and even when it does, those around her are cracking up.

    “”Even when she wasn’t smiling, we’d just laugh because she was so funny,”” said forward ChǸ Oh, breaking into a laugh of her own. “”If she was mad, we’d be laughing at her, because she was just a funny person, so fun to be around.””

    “”She was hilarious,”” recalled junior center Shannon Hobson as she sat after practice with her hands folded between her knees, looking up at the sky. “”Her laugh was just something that you just knew out of nowhere. And just the way – just kind of her remarks … she might say something under her breath, and you would just be dying because it was just so off-the-wall.””

    The memories still linger. Whether it’s Tigger from television’s “”Winnie the Pooh,”” a common affinity for Hobson and Polk or the recently established “”Polkey’s Pride Award”” (given to the player “”who’s put out everything and who’s put the team above themselves,”” according to Polk’s former head coach, Joan Bonvicini), rarely a day goes by when the team doesn’t remember their former teammate.

    “”Stuff like that always comes to my mind,”” Oh said. “”Me and (guard) Ashley (Whisonant) will be joking around, ‘Oh, you remember when…?’ It’s – every day you think about it, but – it’s tough. And it’s good to remember.””

    But now, even as the team cherishes all of their favorite Polkey memories one year removed from that fateful Monday morning – “”Just her heart, she was genuine,”” Hobson said – the team just wants to move on.

    “”For the most part, the team is just like, ‘No, we don’t really want to bring that back.’ You know what I mean? We just kind of want to keep her here in our hearts,”” Hobson said as she tapped her chest with her palm, “”but also just move on and not dwell on it, because I think last year we did a lot of dwelling and a lot of thinking about it.

    “”And that didn’t help us move on. That didn’t help us get to the next step.””

    To move on, the team’s going to do what they do and know best: They’re going to play basketball.

    “”I think what (the players) want to do is what Polkey would want us to do, and that’s just play,”” Bonvicini said. “”Obviously, they’ll always remember her, but in remembering her, Polkey was a competitor, and that’s what she wants. She wants this team to do well.””

    It’s not that they want to forget Polk – “”I think every day, pretty much, we celebrate her life,”” Hobson said – the team just wants to open the next chapter of their lives.

    “”We still have those (good) memories, but I think to us, to sit there and do something special for the day that she passed was just not something that was going to help us,”” Hobson said. “”All of us pretty much agreed that we just would move on.””

    Last week, Bonvicini was speaking at an on-campus event, and the subject of Polk’s passing was brought up. A member of the audience was curious why it received so much attention.

    “”It was interesting,”” Bonvicini said. “”I’d never been asked this question, maybe because I don’t deal with people away from sports as much.””

    The man mentioned a suicide that occurred on campus nearly a month to the day after Polk passed and wondered why it wasn’t given as much attention.

    “”I said, ‘Well, there’s really no right answer here,'”” Bonvicini said. “”I said, ‘Sports get a lot of attention. That’s why you pick up, whether it’s the Wildcat or any paper, there’s a sports section.’ And I said that Polkey was pretty popular.””

    And that, Bonvicini said, was the main difference. Though she stressed that she wasn’t diminishing the student’s suicide, Bonvicini said that Polk’s passing was very public, so the team dealt with it publicly.

    “”When you have someone pass away, usually someone you knew or close to you, you deal with it privately,”” Bonvicini said. “”It was never private with her, it was very public. And it’s not like I minded or the team minded talking about her, but it never went away.

    “”I think that’s why, honestly, we want to move on,”” she added. “”It’s not that (the players) don’t want to remember her, because they do, and they will, but they also know they want to have a great season, and all those feelings – it was hard.””

    The team’s theme this year is “”Taking Off.”” Eventually, it’ll be embodied on a poster that comes complete with flight gear and a fighter plane. But for now, it’s the theme they live by.

    “”We’ve been sitting on the runway a little too long, and so it’s time to take off,”” Hobson said. “”It’s time to just have a new beginning and just start all over. That’s what we’re focusing on, is just taking off, and just ‘new.’ Don’t worry about the past. Last year, last season doesn’t matter.

    “”Everybody goes through trials. And you can’t use those trials as an excuse because everybody has trials.””

    But even though they want a fresh start and the flaps are down, ready for take off, the team knows that if they do need help, her number, 00, will be there. The team will continue to wear the black ’00’ patches on their uniforms, and Polk’s retired jersey will be looking down on them from the rafters in McKale.

    “”Every game, that’s up there,”” Oh said, “”and you can look at it and remember her.””

    The team just doesn’t want to remember that September morning, the day that they will never forget. The day that their world was turned upside down. The day that each and every one of them lost a best friend.

    In the months following that day, the team dealt with Polk’s death daily. But those days, Bonvicini said, were somewhat eased by the passing of her brother, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 41 before the season.

    “”That was really hard,”” she said, “”but the difference is you grieve privately.

    “”Some people say you get over it,”” she added. “”You don’t get over it. You just learn how to live with things. That sort of helped me with Polkey. You just learn how to deal with it.””

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