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Remembering 'Polkey': Bracelets, patch help honor center

Josh Fields/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Members of the Arizona women's basketball team bow their heads in remembrance of teammate Shawntinice Polk before the Red-Blue Game earlier this semester. Bracelets, '00' patches and an endowment fund were established in Polk's memory in the offseason as members of every Arizona sports team will wear the patches on their uniforms this year.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 17, 2005
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She was their teammate. And she was their friend.

So, naturally, members of the Arizona women's basketball team don't need tangible reminders for someone they'll never forget.

But for everyone else who wasn't as close to the late Shawntinice Polk, who died from blood clots Sept. 26, plenty of ways to remember the former star center have become available this season, with some expected to carry far beyond the program's first year without Polkey.

"There's a different range of things being done so specific people can honor her in their own way," said senior forward Anna Chappell.

Chappell said that the various things that the school and the athletic department have done to embrace Polk's legacy - from wristbands, to patches on the jerseys, to an endowment fund in her name - is so different groups of people have the opportunity to honor Polk, from this season's squad to future teams.

"It's hard to describe because when we people pass away, people can be viewed as a selfish thing," Chappell said. "They want their own bit of her. And it's not that in any way - it's that we're trying to celebrate her completely, and everyone else still wants to celebrate her with us."

First-year Arizona assistant coach Todd Holthaus designed bracelets that say "Polkey #00." The bracelets are on sale in the McKale Center ticket office for $2.

"The night after Polkey passed away, he couldn't sleep and he tried to think of something to do, and he came up with this so he designed these," said Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini. "Over a dollar will go to an endowment scholarship in Polkey's name."

Senior associate athletics director Rocky LaRose said that 500 bracelets were distributed to Arizona student-athletes, and that the remaining 1,500 have already sold out.

The funds generated from the bracelet sales will go to an endowment fund in Polk's name, which LaRose said will help to offset future women's basketball costs.

The Arizona athletics program hopes to raise $150,000 for the fund so a women's basketball scholarship can be placed in Polk's name.

"It takes $150,000 to endow a full scholarship," said Ray Martinez, assistant director of marketing and development. "I suspect the numbers will be short of that so that there will be one (student-athlete) recipient, selected annually by a scholarship committee."

As of Monday, $8,339 had been raised for the fund in the form of donations and bracelet sales.

Coleman and Jeannie Davis, founders of recreational-vehicle manufacturer Keystone RV who moved to Tucson two years ago from Goshen, Ind., and never actually met Polk, donated $1 million to Arizona's new basketball practice facility, which will contain two courts - one of which will incorporate Polk's name.

"That was donated specifically in her honor to name the court after her," LaRose said. "All other miscellaneous donations - the bracelets - will go into the endowment fund."

The team decided to leave Polk's locker full of equipment for the entire season, and Bonvicini said it's possible that Polk's jersey will hang on the bench.

Polk's jersey will be retired and draped on a wall in McKale Center on Feb. 18, Senior Day for the women's team.

LaRose said Senior Day was chosen since it would have been Polk's final home game with the Wildcats.

"We thought that was the most meaningful because we have always celebrated seniors on senior night," LaRose said. "We always give every senior a framed jersey on senior night. We certainly want to honor her on senior night because that would have been her night."

The athletics department typically retires jerseys of those who achieve national player of the year recognition, but LaRose said the department makes exceptions in circumstances such as Polk's.

"That's our history and tradition when we lose a student athlete," she said. "It's an honorary retirement of their jersey for student-athletes that we've lost."

LaRose said that while Polk's jersey is retired, it is ultimately up to Bonvicini to retire Polk's No. 00.

"Coaches still have the option to not use the number, but we leave it up to the coaches, that way we have the best of both worlds," LaRose said.

Polk's number is visible on all Arizona jerseys, as every sports team honors her with a "00" patch. The Arizona cheerleaders, the Wilma and Wilbur Wildcat mascots and the Wildchair wheelchair basketball team also don the patches.

Bonvicini said that Nike has agreed to make special shoes with Polk's name and number, which the team will wear throughout the season.

The team has held two moments of silence for Polk, one before the team's annual Red-Blue Game on Nov. 1 and the other before the Wildcats' exhibition game against Cal Poly Pomona on Nov. 6. Before the team introductions at every home game, a short statement in Polk's memory will be read.

Although her memory will be an inspiration throughout the season, Bonvicini said her team is not going to win games for Polk.

"What happens if you would lose a game?" she said. "It has to be just her inspiration."

"The whole team is dedicating the whole season to her," said junior guard Joy Hollingsworth. "We know she'll be a sixth man out there."

Bonvicini said the death of Polk has changed how she coaches her team.

"We want her memory to stay with people and I believe that she will continue to inspire people," she said. "I know she has inspired me. She's made me as a coach much more vulnerable, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I just feel that I'm closer and can talk in different ways to my team."

Bonvicini added that while each day is difficult, the team has made it through the most trying time.

"My job as their coach is to be a good leader, to help them and to help inspire them through all this," she said. "I think the hardest thing that we faced was a few weeks ago (after Polk's death). That week was surreal. We were numb."

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