BY RICH PALZEWIC
SUAMICO – Bay Port senior Tyniqua “Taz” Smith had a difficult upbringing in life, but that hasn’t stopped her from making the best out of the situation.
Taz was an integral part of the girls’ basketball team’s success this past season – not as a prolific scorer or rebounder, but as a cheerleader on the bench and a positive influence on all those around her.
The Pirates finished 20-6 and made it all the way to the sectional finals before dropping a 49-34 game to Arrowhead.
“I was raised in a house with three siblings – one older sister and brother, and a younger sister,” said Smith, who lived in Indiana for much of her young life but moved here fulltime in the eighth grade. “My mother was an alcoholic and my father was absent. They had called it quits when I was in kindergarten. I live with my Aunt Lillian and Uncle Steve Schmidt here now. They are my legal guardians.”
Smith, who actually lived in Green Bay earlier in her life during the fourth and fifth grade, noted that she suffered emotional and physical abuse from her mother, but no longer has contact with her.
When Taz was younger she battled several health issues, including hydrocephalus, which is a build-up of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain. In Sept. 2003 she had surgery to place a shunt placed between her skull and brain to relieve the fluid build-up. The shunt basically prevents Smith’s brain from suffocating.
“It wasn’t discovered until I was about 3 years old,” she said. “Things were pretty normal until then, but then my eyes began to sink in and my head became enlarged. My aunt decided it was a good time to get me to a doctor and that’s when they noticed it.”
Taz isn’t just involved in basketball but music as well. She has a great love for music and played the clarinet from age 10 to 14. She now plays the drums and cymbals. She played basketball for one year earlier in her high school career before having to take a break due to a shunt malfunction and replacement surgery.
“I hadn’t been to the doctor since my initial shunt was placed when I was three, so my aunt told me we had to get that checked,” said Smith. “That was during the summer of my junior year. I was getting horrible headaches and my doctor told me that if I hadn’t gotten the surgery when I did, my brain would have pretty much began to suffocate again. The shunt had actually started to corrode itself into my brain, so we had to get it out of there.”
She wasn’t cleared to play basketball or drum-line her junior year due to the strain it would have caused. True to her character, instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for herself, Taz joined the mock trial team and played mallet percussion. The mock trial team placed first in regionals and moved on to state.
As if life hadn’t thrown her enough curveballs, in her physical prior to her senior year for basketball, she found out she had a very loud heart murmur. She missed about a week of practice until her normal doctor was able to clear her to resume all activities.
“Before the whole heart murmur thing I was going to work on my dribbling, my shooting and my free throws,” Smith added. “I had all these goals of things I wanted to do. After the heart murmur (incident) I just told myself to have fun and make the best of it.”
Even though she didn’t get much playing time this year for the talent-laden Pirates, Taz still had a blast and achieved her goal of having fun.
“I kind of felt like an outsider at the beginning of the year, simply because I missed time and didn’t know too much,” she said. “I felt in the way, but the seniors told me that we are all learning – they really helped me and that was reassuring. We came together – at times maybe there were attitudes, but we are girls. When it came to game day we left any distractions off the court. It was a pretty magical moment when we beat Ashwaubenon and won the conference title.”
It was the Pirates’ first-ever FRCC title and first conference title since 2004 when they were members of the Bay.
Smith also made a lasting impression on Bay Port head coach Kati Coleman.
“Taz is something else,” Coleman said. “Her outlook on life is so positive. I love that she took a rough situation and made the best of it. You would never know what she went through by looking at her – she always has a smile on her face. She’s such a team player and honestly would do anything for her teammates. She’s a great role model to her younger sister and I know whatever Taz does in life, she will do it to her fullest potential … with a smile!”
The prognosis for Taz is good as long as she gets yearly or bi-yearly checkups. The shunts are not permanent, so she will have to have more surgeries in her lifetime to replace those.
Smith is heading to UW-Eau Claire next fall and will major in criminal justice and minor in psychology.