20 or so freshmen line up at a table. They don’t say anything to each other and look straight ahead for the most part. A couple of the more curious among them sneak a look at the media cameras or the yellow and silver packages to their right. They all look a little bewildered. After all, they’re freshmen, it’s the middle of the school day, and they are out of class.
The freshmen got to start the line because they are the smallest of the 170 or so football players on the Freshman, JV, and Varsity teams who will receive these protective pads from the Taylor Haugen Foundation. The pads are lined up by size, so the smallest kids get to go first.
The foundation, which pays for half the $80 cost for each set of pads, returned to the area where the mission began.
15-year-old Freshman Taylor Haugen died from injuries he sustained from a tackle while playing football for Niceville High School in its Kickoff Classic more than a decade ago. “It’s the same game you will play this Friday,” Brian Haugen said to a room full of football players at the Thursday morning fitting.
Ever since, Taylor’s parents, Kathy and Brian Haugen, have raised money and traveled the country to provide and outfit special protective pads called EVOshields, which they believe would have saved Taylor’s life if he’d had the gear.
Kathy and Brian were on hand, along with members of the All Sports Association and foundation members, to speak to students about their mission.
“It’s incredible,” Kathy Haugen said about the fitting events, “It’s a really moving experience.”
Since the accident, The Taylor Haugen Foundation has outfitted more than 7,000 players in 18 states around the US.
After a short video presentation to the players, the Haugens entered the weightlifting facility, where they viewed the film. As the Haugens enter, they pass the signs that herald Niceville’s success on the field below, including a state championship in 1988. They squeeze into the pre-fabricated steel building surrounded by a mob of boys just like their son.
All of the boys are silent and watching the Haugens.
“How many of you have had an abdominal injury?” Brian asks from the center of the room. About an eighth of the boys raise their hands. “It’s not lightning in a bottle,” he tells them. What happened to his son, he says, can happen to them. He warns them that the gear might be a little hot initially, but they will get used to it. By November, he tells them, they’ll be grateful for anything they can get their hands on to stay a little warmer. Kathy Haugen reminds them not to open the silver package – to let one of the volunteers fit their pads.
The boys, starting with the freshmen, walk in groups from the weight room back into the fieldhouse.
One by one, volunteers fit students with tight gray shirts and two small pads covering the ribs, about the width and height of a loaf of bread and about the thickness of a cell phone.
The pads conform to the body of each player’s unique physique and react to oxygen once they leave their silver packaging. The reaction allows the protective padding to mold to the side of their bodies and hardens to protect the player. The settling process takes about 20 minutes and requires the players to stand outside on the field without bending over.
Skill positions are encouraged to carry a football with them. Brian Haugen tells them to ensure the form-fitting works to their advantage on the field. According to Haugen, it creates a slight divot on the outside of the pad, which gives a small benefit to the ball carrier, who’s a little less likely to fumble when he wears the pads.
Several members of the All Sports Association were in attendance to help fit the players, including Niceville Football State Champion and LA Rams Scout Taylor Morton and Niceville City Councilman Abner Williams.
Slowly, the half dozen volunteers make their way through the players and fit them with care: making sure the pads don’t fold in on themselves and are placed in the internal pockets on the shirts.
After 90 minutes, the job is done, and players can return to class – hopefully a little safer. Now, they are a part of the 7,000 high school kids and most players in the NCAA and Professional ranks who wear the gear on the gridiron Friday nights. The total cost to the foundation is roughly $6,720.
“This is fantastic,” Kathy Haugen said, “This is something that has been needed to have been done for a long time.”
Brian and Kathy Haugen founded the Taylor Haugen Foundation after the death of their son, Taylor, in 2008. The foundation “builds and recognizes youth leaders and promotes youth sports safety to honor the legacy of Taylor Haugen.” The foundation also grants safety equipment through its YESS© Program (Youth Equipment for Sports Safety). Finally, the foundation honors a “faith-based” local athlete in the tri-county area who “The Foundation also recognizes and supports outstanding scholar-athletes with scholarships and awards who “have overcome, persevered and dynamically improved in their sport over time.”
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