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Stronger Shield: Parents of late Taylor Haugen come from Florida to donate gear to Trojans in honor of Dana Payne

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Kathy and Brian Haugen unveil an EvoShield to give out to a Millington Trojan football player last week.

News of Millington Trojan Dana Payne’s death spread across the United States.

For one family in Niceville, Fla., the story was all too familiar. Kathy and Brian Haugen lived the nightmare Tameka Smith and her family are enduring for more than four years.

Their son Taylor Haugen died while playing the game he loved, football. Since that day his parents have been on a mission to bring awareness to the dangers of interior injuries in sports.

Last Thursday the Haugens on behalf of the Taylor Haugen Foundation made their way to Millington to lean support as the program still deals with the lost of Payne and supply the nearly 150 players with EvoShield under gear.

“We’re up here because more than four years ago we lost our son in a football, a season-opener,” Kathy said. “With a very similar injury as was sustained by Dana Payne.

“Friends of ours from this area found out about it and the similarities of the two,” she added. “We felt like we had to reach out to this school and felt compiled to come up here and put this protective gear on them.”

The foundation along with representatives from EvoShield outfited the entire Millington Central High School Football program with some of EvoShield’s protective football equipment.  The gear was provided to the Trojan Varsity JV and Freshmen teams.

“What we’ve done with the YESS Program is focused on our local area back home, Niceville and Destin region,” Brian Haugen noted. “But this is the first outreach we’ve done significantly across state borders. We did it because we had to.

“They both were sophomore wide receivers that passed away from injuries sustained from taking a hit while catching the ball,” he continued. “Millington and Niceville are very similar, the school size and the military towns. There were so many things that made it so logoical for us to just want to come up here and reach out.”

Through the Youth Equipment for Sports Safety Program, the Haugens have been educating middle and high schools on safety for the entire body while in competition.

The EvoShields are one of the latest forms of safety for the torso. The under gear is a RIB shirt that’s worn tightly with two shirt pockets. Thin pads feeling like sanbags are inserted into the shirt.

After the thin gel pads are placed, they heat up and start to form to the player’s body. Once the padding goes through its gel-to-shell phase by getting warm and cooling down, it becomes stronger than steel.

“We can’t bring back Dana or T,” Brian said. “But because of the awareness we both have been through losing football players in the field, I would like to see interior injuries become a little bit more recognized as a problem in our youth athletes.”

Haugen was a wide receiver on the Niceville (Fla.) High School junior varsity football team.  On Aug. 30, 2008, the 15-year-old sophomore died from injuries sustained from being hit by two opponents while attempting to catch a pass during a game.

Payne, 15, was a sophomore member of the Millington Trojans. During a varsity practice on Aug. 21 he attempted to make a catch suffering a fatal hit.

Brian said his foundation wants to turn these tragedies into awareness for grade school players.

“We have had for several years the Taylor Haugen Foundation in honor of our son,” he said. “ And through that foundation we have a program we call the YESS Program. Youth Equipment for Sports Safety. Our goal is to educate and equip middle school and high school kids about the new generation of safety equipment commonly worn by pros and college atheles.”

Haugen noted the first safety concern for youth athletes in recent years was heat. Now water timeouts are taken by officials during hot weather games. The next problem addressed was concussions.

Now helmet regulations are enforced across the United States. Haugen said he wants to see the same approach to interior injuries.

“They’re wearing equipment that hopefully will remind them and carry on Dana and Taylor,” Kathy said. “I’m very happy my son and Dana can be honored in the same way.”

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