EVERETT — For the better part of two decades, Robert Polk was a steady, gracious and invaluable leader in both the Everett School District and the secondary school athletics scene in Snohomish County and beyond.
Polk spent the last 17 years managing a wide variety of responsibilities as Everett Public Schools’ director of activities and athletics. He also juggled a number of other duties outside of that job, including regional athletic leadership positions and basketball officiating roles.
And as local coaches described, he did it all with genuine care for people and determination to do what was best for kids.
Polk died unexpectedly on Sunday. He was 54.
“Robert was an outstanding colleague and a dedicated worker,” said Ian Saltzman, the school district’s superintendent. “When I saw him at sporting events, I was always impressed with his grace and leadership. His passing is a tremendous loss to the community and the school district.”
Polk had been the district’s director of activities and athletics since 2004. That role featured a multitude of duties related to overseeing the athletic programs of the district’s three high schools — Cascade, Everett and Jackson — and five middle schools.
It also included an array of responsibilities on the academic side — such as coordinating graduation ceremonies, overseeing ASB work and supporting the schools’ physical education and health programs.
“He really was a champion for getting students involved,” district spokesperson Kathy Reeves said. “And he understood the importance of teamwork, competition and sportsmanship as part of a well-rounded education. He worked really hard to create equity — to remove barriers that people might have to participate in activities or athletics.”
In 2015, Polk received a pair of awards for his work. He was given the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) award of merit, which recognized him for “meritorious dedication to middle and high school athletics.” He also was named the Washington State Secondary Athletic Administrators Association (WSSAAA) athletic director of the year.
“You could tell that everything he did, he did with the intention of making it the best experience for kids possible,” said Everett High School girls basketball coach Jeannie Thompson, who also was previously Jackson High School’s girls basketball coach. “From hiring coaches, to improving facilities, to making sure that you had equitable resources for all student-athletes — he just went above and beyond to take care of kids.
“He was very thorough, very organized, committed, dedicated,” she added. “All the attributes that you would want in somebody in a leadership position, he embodied all of those. And then, of course, (he had) the class and integrity to go with it.”
“He was the consummate professional,” former longtime Jackson High School football coach Joel Vincent added.
Polk also served in a variety of other roles, including as president of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Northwest District Board and as president of the WSSAAA Board. He also was part of the NIAAA’s strategic planning committee.
In addition, Polk spent the last decade or so officiating basketball games through the Snohomish County Basketball Officials Association. He became the association’s president during the 2019-20 season.
“He just did so much,” said Everett High School football and boys wrestling coach Brien Elliott, a longtime coach of various high school and middle school sports in the Everett School District. “It was amazing all the things he did. I can honestly say that there’s no way that he’ll be replaced. There’s no way.”
Polk, a 1984 South Kitsap High School graduate, was a tackle on the University of Puget Sound football team and received NAIA All-American honors in 1988. He graduated in 1990.
Polk later earned a master’s degree at Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri). During his time there, he spent two years as a graduate assistant coach for the school’s men’s basketball team.
From 1997 to 2004, Polk was the head boys basketball coach at Olympic High School in Bremerton. He also was Olympic’s athletic director for four years before moving to his position at Everett Public Schools.
“He was always about doing what’s right and just doing what was best for kids,” Elliott said. “And he just was so passionate for people and about his job. … He made sure that we had whatever we needed.
“And then if anything was ever wrong, you could always go to him, and he would get out his little notepad and start taking notes. And then he would go about getting that situation fixed.”
Coaches described Polk as a behind-the-scenes leader who would take on any task, even things as simple as sweeping a gym floor or raking a baseball diamond.
“He just really did whatever he needed to do,” said Jackson High School softball coach Kyle Peacocke, who also was previously Everett High School’s softball coach. “He was a true servant leader (and) never expected anything from other people. He just kind of gave himself to others.”
Coaches also emphasized his caring demeanor.
“He treated each person he came into contact with with dignity and respect,” Thompson said. “He would always go up to you personally, shake your hand, welcome you to the event and ask you how you were doing (and) how your family was.”
Polk is survived by his wife, Tara, children Kellen and Marin, his parents and his brother.
“Whenever a conversation was over, he would say, ‘Take care of your family,’” Elliott said. “… I know how much family meant to him.”
“His favorite job of all,” Tara added, “(was) being a dad.”
Tara said a service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Everett Memorial Stadium. She said it’s open to as many people allowed under coronavirus restrictions.
The Everett Public Schools Foundation and Everett School District have created the Robert C. Polk Memorial Athletic Scholarship to honor Polk. Information on how to donate to the scholarship fund can be found here.
Polk is “irreplaceable,” Reeves said. But as Elliott said, there is an important way schools and athletics can honor his legacy.
“I know that Robert would say to all of us, ‘Keep doing what’s right for kids,’” Elliott said.