Taylor Haugen’s Legacy Impacts Life for Area Teens and Others
By Stacie L. Morgan, The Gulf Coast Post
March, 2011 - Two years ago, the death of a 15-year-old Niceville High School wide receiver rippled through a football team, a school, a town, and cross-county rival teams. It devastated his family and friends and even impacted the life of a University of Florida quarterback‚ÄĒwho had never met him.
Today, it is Taylor Haugen‚Äôs life that ripples through Okaloosa County‚Äôs middle and high school students as well as the community.
Instead of allowing Taylor‚Äôs death to cripple them, his parents, Brian and Kathy Haugen, formed the Taylor Haugen Foundation as a way to honor their only child‚Äôs memory. The foundation provides scholarships to ‚Äúfaith-based, outgoing, community-oriented, academically-proficient athletes in the local community,‚ÄĚ according to the organization‚Äôs website.
Taylor died as a result of an injury received late in the fourth quarter of an August 2008 junior varsity football game between Niceville and Fort Walton Beach high schools.
A new offshoot of the foundation‚ÄĒthe Taylor Haugen Foundation Youth Corps‚ÄĒ is made up of middle and high school students throughout Okaloosa County. The corps models Taylor‚Äôs devotion to community service as well as his Christian faith, ‚Äúby lending a hand to those in need and positively impacting the world around them through Christ,‚ÄĚ records the corps‚Äô mission statement.
‚ÄúPart of Taylor‚Äôs inspiration,‚ÄĚ said Linda Vickery, the corps‚Äô adult overseer, ‚Äúwas his passion for community service. And I started to listen to what these kids were saying about Taylor, what he meant to them. They wanted to find a way to help. These kids are the hands and feet of the foundation,‚ÄĚ she continued. ‚ÄúThey represent many schools and give one united effort.‚ÄĚ Vickery‚Äôs son Caisson, a Fort Walton Beach High School senior, was the first recipient of the Taylor Haugen Trophy, awarded in 2009 at the All-Sports Association‚Äôs annual banquet.
Recently the Corps repainted the outside of a community center on Dates Avenue, Sylvania Heights, Fort Walton Beach. The building‚Äôs exterior, highly visible from two roadways, had been defaced by gang-related graffiti. Other corps service projects have benefited Wright Elementary School, Fort Walton Beach and the Valparaiso Senior Center. Additionally, corps members have volunteered at the Destin Seafood Festival, served as parking valets for the Foundation‚Äôs 2010 Wine Tasting and donated their time at the 2010 Punt, Pass & Kick event.
Sara Horrell, a Niceville High senior, had been a friend with Taylor (widely known as ‚ÄúT‚ÄĚ) since early middle school. ‚ÄúT is the one who first brought me to church,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúI wanted to share in the kinds of things he lived for and he lived to do. So far, being involved in the corps has been the most important thing I‚Äôve done in my life. I like being involved. It makes me feel great helping everyone.‚ÄĚ
Garrett Teal, the senior quarterback at Crestview High School said he never considered Taylor‚Äôs death to strictly be ‚Äúa Niceville thing. It got to a point where the tragedy reached out and affected the entire area. It (the death) hit me pretty hard,‚ÄĚ said Garrett. ‚ÄúI wanted to be involved (in helping) in any way I could.‚ÄĚ
Holley Snaith, a junior at the Collegiate High School of Northwest Florida State College, said even though she never met Taylor, his life inspired her. The corps, she said, appealed to her desire to ‚Äúgo out and show people that there are others who really do care‚ÄĚ that ‚ÄúGod loves them. This is a way to carry on Taylor‚Äôs legacy.‚ÄĚ
Alayna Nixon, now a freshman at Niceville High, found herself in Taylor‚Äôs company quite often. Her older brother (also named Taylor) was T‚Äôs best friend. ‚ÄúWith T being so close to me,‚ÄĚ she said, ‚ÄúI really felt like I wanted to be a part of the things he felt were important. I‚Äôve grown up in a family that stresses helping others. When the opportunity to join the corps came along, I thought ‚Äėall right, let‚Äôs do it.‚Äô Belonging to the corps has helped strengthen my values and I like being around others who love Christ.‚ÄĚ
Having a Christian faith is not a pre-requisite for belonging to the youth corps, said mentor Vickery. ‚ÄúThe only thing that is required is a striving to do the best you can with what God has blessed you with,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúWe just want kids to know it‚Äôs OK to go for the good things.‚ÄĚ
Doing the best with what God gives may be something Tim Tebow, NFL quarterback for the Denver Broncos, as well as a Heisman Trophy winner, could be credited with. He may also be called another admirer of Taylor Haugen. In 2009, Tebow, then quarterback for the University of Florida, presented the first Taylor Haugen Trophy to Caisson Vickery at the All-Sports banquet, at which he initially heard Taylor‚Äôs story. In an ESPN video, which can still be viewed on YouTube, Tebow commented on the life of the 15-year-old. Taylor‚Äôs story has ‚Äúchallenged me to leave a legacy, like he did,‚ÄĚ said Tebow in the video.
Added Linda Vickery, as she talked about the youth corps and Taylor‚Äôs legacy,¬† ‚ÄúNone of us really ever know if we‚Äôre in the fourth quarter of our lives, so we have to make sure we do something positive with the life we have.‚ÄĚ
Below are photos from the many Youth Corps projects in 2010 and 2011. For a list of all projects, visit the Youth Corps project list.