The University of Arizona
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SHAWNTINICE POLK

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Date submitted: October 24, 2006
Gift: General Gift
Location on plaza map: C3
Areas of Achievement: Athletics
 
“Lately I’ve been going through some things that really got me down
I need someone somebody to help me come and turn my life around
I can’t explain, I can’t obtain it
It gets me high up to the sky and when I think about your goodness it makes me want to stomp
Makes me clap my hand makes me want to dance and stomp
My brother can’t you see? I got the victory” – Kirk Franklin

When Shawntinice “Polkey” Polk was a little girl, all she wanted was to fit in. Not only was she taller than the other kids, she was taller than all of her teachers. Her school had to order a special desk for her—“she was just a little kid in a very big body.” As she grew older, she didn’t just get bigger in size, but also in personality and spirit. Her baseball coach while playing at the University of Arizona recalls: “She was a very big woman, not exaggerating at all, a female Shaquille O’Neal. But when I met her, what I was impressed with was how articulate she was, how personable she was… and how much she loved life. She had an exuberant personality. And was loved by everyone. She was the kind of person that people were just drawn to.”

Polkey was born on March 27, 1983, in Hanford, California into a big family. She grew up there with her mother and six siblings until high school when sports opened up a “new world” for her. When her mother moved to Bakersfield, which was about 90 miles away, Polkey stayed in Hanford and lived with the families of her teammates so that she could go to school and play sports. Her high school basketball team finished second place in the state her junior year and they took first place her senior year and third place in the nation. Polkey was one of the top five players in the United States. Though she excelled at sports, she struggled in school due to a learning disability that wasn’t diagnosed until after she graduated high school. Because it wasn’t known that she had a disability, she took the SAT exams without the help that would’ve been available otherwise—she didn’t pass. Coach Bonvicini had wanted to recruit her for the UA and wanted to work with her so that she could attend the university and play for her team. She was sent to a junior college in Hanford where she was officially diagnosed with her learning disability and was able to then retake the SAT exams with the assistance necessary and passed.

When she came to the UA in January of 2002, Polkey was overwhelmed. She was out of shape and had gained weight during her semester at the junior college. Because she didn’t want to let anyone down, she worked out every day while working hard in her classes. Prior to her first college game, she had lost 60 pounds! She played during the season opening game against Louisiana State University on November 22, 2002 in which she made 13-for-16, scored 29 points and 11 rebounds—the greatest debut ever by an Arizona freshman.

When she wasn’t practicing at the McKale Sports Center, she would hang out in the Memorial Student Union where she “developed a great multitude of friends.” Coach Bonvicini became her surrogate mother and coach while at the UA and appreciated that Polkey looked up to her and respected her as both her coach and a woman. She also expressed what a powerful inspiration Polkey was. She always put her teammates first and “deflected all of the honors.” She’d sing the gospel song “Stomp” by Kirk Franklin to get her team motivated before games on the bus. “After she passed away,’ Bonvicini lamented, “the only time we ever sang it again was at her memorial service. We played the song and the kids sang it… but we never could again.”

One event that helps to illustrate how influential Polkey’s presence was, happened during her freshman year while playing against the University of Southern California at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. While ahead by double-digits in the first half, Polkey injured her ankle and her trainer said she couldn’t go back in. During the second half, the team started playing like the “bad news bears” and lost the lead by double digits. Bonvicini recalls, with about 11 minutes left, “All of a sudden you hear the crowd cheering, and Polkey walks back into the arena… and says ‘I’m ready to go back in.’ And the game just changed.” The UA Wildcats won the game handily and Bonvicini accredits Polkey’s presence for motivating the team.

Polkey had an amazing record while playing for the UA. During her sophomore years, she started all 33 games and ranked second in point and scoring average, as well as third in steals. She is the Arizona Wildcats’ career leader in blocked shots (222), double-doubles (44) and is the team’s number four all-time scorer with 1,467 points. She was Co-Most Valuable Player twice and held many honors.

The 6’5” tall, 22-year-old senior was well on her way to graduating in May of 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Family Studies and Human Development. Tragedy struck on September 26, 2005 when a blood clot traveled through her healthy body and into her lungs which took her life. This is a rare and unfortunate event for someone of her age and health. Because of her untimely death, the UA was robbed of someone who touched the lives of everyone she met.

When Polkey died it was a great loss for everyone who knew her—“Everyone thought that they were her best friend. And they were… That’s how she treated them… It was so hard when she died because it affected so, so many people because you couldn’t help but be drawn to her. And that was her unbelievable quality.

Information Sources:
Interview with Joan Bonvicini March 13, 2008 written by Chandy E. Leverance