Tazmerria Wilson, now 17 and a rising Statesboro High School senior, has been inspiring people who follow the school’s golf team with her progress and determination over the past three years and those who know her best throughout her life.
Now a 90-second video called “Taz’s Story,” made by Wilson and golf coach Chad Farrell, who is also Statesboro High’s audio-video technology and film teacher, is poised to spread the inspiration further. The film was judged overall first runner-up and won the Hope Givers Storytelling Award in the Hope Film Challenge, a contest for very brief films made by students paired with educator mentors on topics that encourage empathy.
Her winning video now becomes part of a 10- to 15-minute episode of Hope Givers, a series scheduled to be released for streaming Sept. 1 on GPB Education, which is Georgia Public Broadcasting’s digital resources platform for educators and students, and PBS LearningMedia, the Public Broadcasting System’s national platform.
Hope Givers executive producer Tamlin Hall, who also produced the multiple award-winning 2017 feature film “Holden On,” hails from LaGrange. He came to Statesboro earlier this week and presented Wilson a $600 grant check.
“We had finalists from Georgia, from Colorado, from Arizona, and Taz was one of our winners because when we saw her film it was incredible, it was remarkable,” Hall said. “We didn’t expect to have a story like this, and to have Chad work with Taz, it’s all about connectedness at schools, and I think that if you’re an educator you hear about that all the time.”
Hall and Hope Givers associate producer and program coordinator Suzanne Robertson had pictures taken with Wilson and her mother and Farrell and others who have been part of her support system. Before Hall left, he had also offered to write a letter of recommendation to the University of Georgia for Wilson, who wants to go there to major in criminal justice toward becoming an FBI agent.
He also told her he will share copies of her segment with donors to his nonprofit production effort with the message, “This is why we do this.”
Farrell, for eight years a teacher and previously a coach of other sports, is actually a latecomer to Wilson’s story. The audiovisual and film teacher for two years now, he became the SHS girls’ golf team coach only last school year and is set to coach both the girls’ and boys’ teams next year.
During the 2021 season, he and assistant coach Karen Tedders would take turns riding with Wilson in a golf cart. She is allowed that accommodation but stands on her state-of-the-science prosthetic legs to make each shot.
“It’s one of those tough situations to approach,” Farrell said, recalling that he broached the subject with her while riding in the cart during a tournament in Cochran.
“So I finally kind of got up to courage, I said, ‘Taz, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable, whatever you don’t want to tell me you don’t have to, but would you mind telling me how you lost your legs?’” he said. “So she started telling me the story, and then the Hope Givers thing came along and I was able to convince her to do that, like she really had to step out of her comfort zone to tell her story.”
Taz Wilson was born with bilateral tibial hemimelia, a rare bone deficiency that led to her legs being amputated, just above the knee, before her third birthday. But even as a toddler she found ways to be active.
“Very. Trampoline was her favorite,” said her mother, Chirika Wilson. “Six weeks after surgery she was jumping off the couch onto the trampoline, and the doctor said just let her go, you know, be as active as she could be and she’ll know her own limits, and she’s just been zooming ever since.”
The older Wilson, a single mother of seven children who works as a home caregiver, knows something about commitment and inspiration. She has found some in Tazmerria, her middle child.
“I’m very proud of her. She’s my inspiration every day, like you never really hear her complain,” Chirika Wilson said. “She just goes. She gets up and does what she needs to do and keeps going.”
Another motivated supporter is Don Garrick, previously the Bulloch County Schools’ teacher for assisting students with orthopedic impairments.
Tazmerria Wilson “doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. She sticks with it,” he said in a June 2019 story by Herald contributor Julie Lavender.
Garrick first worked with Wilson when she was in prekindergarten, but lost track of her for a few years until he saw her mother again somewhere when Taz was in eighth-grader at Langston Chapel Middle School and ready to go on to Statesboro High. She told him her daughter wanted to play basketball or golf, he recalled.
She credits him with pointing her in the golf direction. He rounded up some clubs and took her to putt and chip a few shots.
“Originally I wanted to play basketball but that was a little bit too much for me, so Mr. Don was wondering if I’d be interested in playing golf, and we went out one day at Forest Heights and I loved it,” Wilson said.
Now retired, Garrick came to Statesboro High for the presentation Monday.
So did Tina Rigdon, the Bulloch County Schools current physical therapist. Each semester she works with about 30 students from across the county on helping them to become independent in their mobility in the school settings. Wilson transitioned from riding a bus with a lift to a regular school bus in ninth grade. Monday she walked in with a cane but stood to have photos taken without it.
“She inspires me,” She just never gives up,” Ridgon said. “Anything I ask of her she’s willing to try to do, and anything she puts her mind to she usually will accomplish it.”
All in 90 seconds
The 90-second limit was part of the contest rules. Farrell said he did some cutting to get it to almost exactly that, maybe a second shorter.
So, how much of “Taz’s Story” can possibly be told in a minute and a half?
“It’s just a little bit of my story, you know, to keep people inspired no matter what challenges they may come across,” she said.
Within the seventh of the eighth Hope Givers episodes, Wilson’s video will be the “Youth Across America” segment. Each episode also features a main “Hope Giver” story, animated shorts, youth self-care activities and a musical performance. A mental health professional does a recap talking to educators and parents about what to look for in the episode.
After pitching the series to GPB, Hall also received backing from the Georgia Department of Education. So teachers across the state are writing lesson plans for the series, correlated with the grades 6-12 health curriculum. In addition to GPB Education and PBS Learning Media, he has partnered with WETA, the PBS flagship station in Washington, D.C., for inclusion of the Hope Givers programs in Well Beings, its national mental health resources initiative.
“So Taz’s story is going to be everywhere,” he said.
A list of the contest winners can be found at https://hopegiversga.org/filmchallenge.