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Remembering 'Polkey': Thousands pay last respects

Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Shawntinice Polk's teammate Shannon Hobson leads her team and the audience in singing 'Stomp' by Kirk Franklin. ''Stomp' was a jam we sang, lead by Polkey, on the bus to away games,' Hobson said.
By Mika Mandelbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 29, 2005
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About 2,100 people shared laughter and tears at a memorial service last night to remember and honor women's basketball center Shawntinice Polk, who died Monday morning from cardiac arrest after a blood clot traveled from one of her legs to her lungs.

Polk's teammates, friends, family and fans came together for a memorial service in McKale Center, the place where she collapsed and the place coach Joan Bonvicini said was Polk's second home.

Although many knew her personally, there were also many people who didn't know Polk and said they felt connected to her.

"You just can't help but be a part of the kid's personal lives when you go to the games and read about them in the paper," said Deana Puccinelli, a fan of UA athletics. "I'm sad just like the people who've known her better than I."

Gordon and Helen Nelson said they have been going to almost every UA women's basketball game for 25 years.

"We come to almost all the games," Gordon Nelson said. "We enjoyed watching the girls play and watching Polkey play. She was a great ball player."

Members of the community remembered Polk for her love of children.

Barbara McFadden and Karen Gavender, co-owners of McFadden/Gavender Advertising in Tucson, worked with Polk at the Tucson Summer Pro League this year.

Gavender said she specifically remembered a luncheon where Polk sat down with several kids and told them they could be anything they wanted to be.

"We got to see how the other kids saw her," McFadden said. "The little girls were just in awe of her. She just got down on their level and talked to them."

Polk was a role model to many young girls, including 11-year-old Amanda Maass, who attended a basketball camp at the UA a few years ago.

"She was always talking and interacting with all the other campers," Maass said. "She was a really cool person."

Angelina and Adrianna Mada also attended basketball camp at the UA.

The sisters wore homemade T-shirts to the memorial that had a picture of the girls with Polk after a basketball game and said, "Polkey, you will be missed."

"She made me feel special because I was talking to this big girl and I'm so little, and she took the time out of her schedule to talk to me," Angelina Mada said.

The Mada sisters weren't the only people who made T-shirts in Polk's honor.

Rachel Schein, a member of the UA basketball team, said she made T-shirts for the women's basketball team and a few others who were close to Polk that said, "It is not what you did in life, but how you are remembered."

The women's basketball team members also paid tribute to Polk at the end of the service by singing "Stomp," by Kirk Franklin, a song Polk used to lead on the bus to away games.

Everyone in attendance stood, clapped and stomped as the girls sang.

President Peter Likins, athletic director Jim Livengood and Bonavicini were among the speakers at the service.

But the personal stories and emotions came out in the speeches of Polk's teammates, who talked about everything Polk had taught them like dedication, forgiveness and patience, and about how Polk will always be part of the team.

Teammate sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant made the audience laugh as she spoke about her plans for this year with Polk.

"We planned to go to Vegas, even though I can't gamble. We planned to go to SeaWorld, even though she was scared of half the animals there," Whisonant said. "We planned to do a lot of things and I didn't care what we did, as long as I was with her."

But tears started falling again as Whisonant continued.

"Polkey, you were like a sister to me," she said. "When I heard you passed, I felt empty and I felt lost, but I know that you'll be with me."

Men's basketball senior forward Hassan Adams described his close relationship with Polk, calling her his sister and saying how she called him 'brother.'

Polk wanted both UA basketball teams to win national titles this year, for her and Adams to be drafted to professional teams in the same city and for them to get a house and live together, Adams said.

"I'm dedicating my season to her and I'm doing it all for her," he said. "I know she'd want me to smile and keep going, so I'm gonna keep going and we're gonna do it."

A video was also played during the service, and many people in the audience wiped away tears as they watched pictures of Polk and video clips from her basketball games.

Polk was smiling in every picture.

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