October 07, 2014

NICEVILLE, Fla. (AP) The play that killed Niceville High wide receiver Taylor Haugen six years ago happens in every game, at every level.

In a junior varsity game with his mother watching in the stands, his quarterback's pass was slightly high, so Taylor, 15, thrust both hands over his head to catch it. One defender slammed into his now exposed abdomen, the other simultaneously hit him in the back. Taylor staggered to the sidelines and collapsed. He was dead hours later.

''The injury that took our son's life was a crushed liver - it was compared to a high-speed car crash by one of the surgeons,'' Kathy Haugen said.

Hoping to prevent further tragedies, Haugen and her husband, Brian, created the Taylor Haugen Foundation, which through its YESS, Youth Equipment for Sports Safety, program gives high school teams nationwide protective padding that might have saved their son. The gel padding, worn by many NFL players, is molded to securely fit each player's body shape. The pads harden and are inserted into the pockets of a shirt worn underneath the players' uniforms and other padding. More than 2,000 junior high and high school players have received the pads, which cost $90 per set.

The pads are particularly important at the high school level and below because there can be a big gap in the size and skill levels of the players.

''On impact it relieves a lot of the stress and impact from a hit or a blow that you might receive during a play,'' explained Choctawhatchee High School coach Greg Thomas. Every player on Thomas' team was fitted with the protective pads and shirts this year.

While brain, spinal cord and heat-related injuries have received significant attention through the years, torso injuries are often overlooked and unreported, said John Todorovich, chairman of the University of West Florida's exercise science and community health department. The school is teaming with YESS to do a study of football torso injuries in hopes of quantifying the problem.

''When somebody gets a bruise or a contusion or something, we kind of ignore it, we don't report it and don't think about it,'' Todorovich said. ''With concussions, we have now trained coaches to help prevent them, to know recognize the signs of concussions and seek medical help. We are hoping to get to the same point where we do the same thing with injuries to the mid-region of the body.''

Through her work with the foundation, Kathy Haugen said she has learned that internal injuries like ruptured stomachs, spleens and kidneys are common.

''I get emails, phone calls all the time about these types of injuries. That's why I have no problem saying confidently that this is not a rare thing, it happens all the time,'' she said.

But before Taylor's injury, the Haugens say they hadn't known about such padding or the dangers of torso injuries. An equipment company made a presentation to the team about the pads, but Taylor never told them about it.

''We would have definitely put it on our son. I mean you spend $150 for a pair of cleats so $90 for a shirt with high-speed, next-generation equipment protection built into to protect from abdominal injuries was something we would have done in a heartbeat,'' Brian Haugen said.

Choctawhatchee senior fullback Spencer Effatt wears the equipment whenever he plays. Effatt, who has separated his shoulder and broken his collarbone on the field, knows the game brings some hard hits.

''I think it looks pretty cool and it is better to be protected,'' he said during a recent practice while displaying the gear he received from the Haugen's foundation.

But no matter what, the Haugens do not want kids to quit playing the sport their son loved.

''It is not the sport's fault that bat things happen,'' Kathy Haugen said. ''It is our job as parents and adults to protect our kids.''

----

Taylor Haugen Foundation: www.taylorhaugen.org

You May Like