by Renee Warmack, MPA
It was a typical morning, 10 years ago. I was sitting on my couch reading the Tampa Tribune when I saw Sam Piazza on the front page wearing a crown. He had just won Homecoming King at Gaither High School, not far from my alma mater, in Tampa. As I read further, I became riveted by the story that described how Sam was born with Down Syndrome. I did not know Sam, but felt an immediate connection to him. My mind drifted off to my awkward, anxious high school years and the hardships I’d overcome in my life. I couldn’t fathom how someone with a disability could have the courage to run for such a coveted position, given the peer pressure and harsh realities of high school life. I just had to learn more about this incredible young man.
So, I tracked down his mother, Ruth Piazza, and explained how blown away I was, and that I felt the story could make a great movie. I had two movies under my belt and was available to pursue my next project. With no funding, I set out to document Sam’s journey the best that I could. I corralled some friends, too, who helped me get Ruth’s story, sound bites from Sam and other students at the school, and even some excerpts from staff, on tape. As I dug deeper, I found that Homecoming King was just one of many amazing things Sam had accomplished.
With no money to move forward, I told the family that I planned to be back one day to finish the movie, but couldn’t do any more at that time. I touched base with Ruth throughout the years. When I retired from a 20-year government career in 2017, I learned that Sam was doing well, and in fact, working at PDQ, just minutes from my house. I pulled the files and tapes out of storage and had a spark of hope that perhaps PDQ would help me move the project forward ... and the rest is history. This July my 50-minute feature documentary, Because of Sam, screened at Tampa Theatre in front of over 900 people, where it received a standing ovation. The Theatre even booked it a second time, and, again, it received rave reviews.
Also noteworthy is that WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil makes a special appearance in a heartwarming scene in the movie where he surprises Sam at the YMCA during Sam’s workout. Sam is a huge WWE fan and had never met O’Neil. Because of Sam transforms how the world views people with disabilities and inspires ALL people to pursue their dreams. I hope you will check out the movie trailers, press kit and consider sponsoring a screening and appearance by Sam, at your organization, or in your city. Go to BecauseofSam.com, for more information.
ReneeWarmackProductions.com Producer, Director, Writer: Because of Sam 2019 Copyright - Because of Sam The Movie, LLC. Permission must be obtained in writing from Because of Sam The Movie, LLC to reprint or republish all or part of this article, or any of the images within it. Hear what people are saying about Because of Sam:
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