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UA Community Grieves Tragic Loss of Shawntinice Polk
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 09/26/2005
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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UA Athletics Director Jim Livengood

UA President Peter Likins
TUCSON, Ariz. -- University of Arizona women's basketball center Shawntinice Polk, known as much for her winning smile as her on-court success, died suddenly this morning at the age of 22.

Polk, a senior from Hanford, Calif., collapsed at McKale Center in mid-morning and was taken to University Medical Center. She had not been working out or practicing this morning or at the time of her collapse.

"This is a tragic day for Shawntinice's family and for the University of Arizona," University of Arizona Athletics Director Jim Livengood said. "We simply feel for everyone who knew this wonderful young woman."

"We lost a tremendous young student-athlete this morning. This is one of those times that anyone connected with any university, athletics or otherwise, dreads the most. And that's when you lose somebody - particularly when it's hard to explain and hard to understand."

University of Arizona President Peter Likins echoed Livengood's sentiments in a campus-wide e-mail to faculty and students, saying, "She was a dedicated student and a star athlete, but most importantly she was a bright and warm person whom we all will miss terribly."

Livengood said Polk's mother had been notified. Livengood and Likins met with all available student-athletes this morning. Livengood said counselors and other specialists were being made available to the women's basketball team, as well as all other student-athletes.

Head women's basketball coach Joan Bonvicini was out of town but returned to Tucson at midday to meet with members of the team.

"This is a terribly sad, heartbreaking day in Arizona women's basketball," Bonvicini said. "I can't put into words the pain and sadness that we're all feeling right now."

"We all love Polkey. Our thoughts and prayers are with Polkey, her family and our Arizona family. While we appreciate the support of the community, we ask that you give us that time and space to grieve."

Livengood said details of what happened will be made available when all the facts are known, saying it would be premature to speculate on a specific cause. Both he and President Likins asked the media and the public in a noon press conference to support the women's basketball team and the rest of the student athletes, and to respect their privacy.

"I will ask one thing of the press," Likins said. "Please, leave these kids alone. Understand they are really hurting badly and they are very vulnerable."

Livengood shared his first memories of Polk, affectionately known by everyone as "Polkey."

"Here was this very tall young lady ... who absolutely had a smile that looked more like our Grand Canyon and had a personality to match. I'll never forget that. And she has not changed."

"Polkey was for everyone, and she was the consummate team player. She cared about everybody, she loved everybody. That's why it's hard to find a student-athlete in McKale who didn't know her: Because if you didn't know her, she was going to know you."

President Likins also shared his personal memories of Polkey.

"I was so taken by her. She was shy, but at the same time was a wonderfully appealing young woman. She came in to see me several times that first semester - before I ever saw her on a basketball court - and we became friends."

"She was a beautiful, beautiful person whom I will cherish for the rest of my life," Likins said.

The impact on the UA Athletics Department community was immediate and visible. The regularly scheduled weekly press conference with head football coach Mike Stoops was postponed - as well as other regular meetings and activities - as staff and student-athletes consoled one another.

When asked if Polk had family in Arizona, Livengood said, "Absolutely. She has 500 student-athletes who dearly love her. She has a basketball team and she has a community."

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