From the Northwest Florida Daily News
VALPARAISO — One of Taylor “T” Haugen’s dreams is coming true this weekend: He’s having a building named after him.
It isn’t happening in the way or on the building he planned, but Taylor likely would appreciate his former middle school naming its gym after him as much as his parents Brian and Kathy Haugen do.
“Kathy and I just got the phone call out of nowhere … We were floored,” Brian Haugen said. “(We are) honored and continue to be amazed at the legacy that a 15½-year-old has had in this community.”
“T,” as he was known by his friends and family, died Aug. 30, 2008, from an injury he suffered during a Niceville High school football game.
But he has not been forgotten. The lives he touched were apparent at the beginning of the school year during a faculty meeting at Lewis School, where the idea of naming the gym after Taylor was brought up.
“They had been trying to put something on the side of the gym for years to let people know where the gym is,” said Principal Mike Fantaksi, who never met Taylor.
Then inspiration struck: The school could name the gym after Taylor.
After getting approval of his parents, the faculty took the idea to the Okaloosa County School Board for its OK.
The effort will be realized at 3 p.m. Saturday during the dedication ceremony, when former teammates, family, friends, teachers and residents again can celebrate Taylor.
“Just listening to (the faculty), and hearing them talk about him, he just represents the type of kid we want to go through these hallways,” Fantaski said. “This was the type of kid who would help anybody. He would stop conflict … He didn’t like to see somebody sitting by himself.”
For his parents, the dedication is especially touching, given the rocky beginnings of their only child’s athletic experience.
From a young age, Taylor loved football and planned to make a career out of it. But he was not a naturally gifted athlete, Brian Haugen said.
“ ‘T’ always stayed after practice and worked more and more on his catching skills,” he said. “He was kind of a late bloomer on his hand and eye coordination.”
He more than made up for what he lacked with his determination and “phenomenal endurance,” Haugen added.
In middle school when he was just starting out, he gave up the opportunity to have the first trumpet chair in band to focus on football.
“He gave up something he was phenomenal at for something he wasn’t that great at … Who does that?” Haugen said with a laugh.
By high school, Taylor had improved his skills and was “just warming up” when he took what would be a fatal hit during a preseason football game.
That drive that he’s so well-remembered for was best illustrated in an essay he wrote for a class assignment about a week before he died, his father said.
“A motto for me is plain and simple,” Taylor wrote. “ ‘Never give up, don’t ever give up.’ I think of that quote every time I feel like quitting something, then I drive on and push through the tough times.”
To promote that philosophy to all students who walk through Lewis’ gym, his parents have bought a plaque that will feature a collage of photographs of him and a short description of who he was and what he stood for.
“We just hope that his legacy will continue to reach kids at Lewis … forever,” his father said.