BAKER — Truth be told, Haley Wagner felt like something was up.
A week ago, Wagner, a senior two-sport athlete at Baker High School, spoke to Brian Haugen of the Haugen Trophy Foundation and found out that the foundation was taking a hard look at the 11 candidates for the annual award. Haugen informed Wagner that she’d likely hear more from the foundation in a week’s time.
So when a special assembly was called at Baker on Monday, Wagner couldn’t help but enter the room with a smile.
“I started to think: It’s been a week since I talked to him, and now we are having an assembly,” said Wagner. “All day I’ve been anxious. Once they started talking, I just couldn’t help it. I was pretty emotional.”
Before long, Haugen’s secret was no longer a secret, as All Sports Association president Chad Hamilton announced that Wagner was officially the fifth winner of the Taylor Haugen Trophy.
The award is given annually to a local senior athlete that excels in five areas: academics, athletics, leadership, community service and faith. Those five traits defined Taylor Haugen, the Niceville freshman who died on Aug. 30, 2008, one night after suffering injuries in a preseason classic football game against Fort Walton Beach.
On Monday, Haugen’s parents were in Baker to welcome the fifth member of the Haugen Trophy family.
“It’s a really hard choice every year,” said Brian Haugen, Taylor’s father. “The schools have really picked up on the traits that we are looking for. It seems like every year, the nominees get stronger and stronger. It’s very difficult picking just one because any of them could have won. But Haley definitely stood out.”
Kathy Haugen, Taylor’s mother, echoed her husband’s sentiments.
“There’s always that one every year that seems to stand out,” said Kathy Haugen. “The biggest thing for me is her love for children. She is very involved with children at her church, at her school . … That was very much a characteristic of my son.
“Every winner that we’ve chosen … it seems like all of them have a little piece of Taylor in them.”
Baker’s afternoon assembly Monday was the vehicle used to announce Wagner’s Haugen Trophy win. Once Hamilton made the announcement, the curtain in Baker’s auditorium was pulled back to reveal the Haugen Trophy, along with several All Sports dignitaries and Haugen’s parents. In the audience were Wagner’s family, including her parents, brother and grandparents.
“Other than FCA, this award is really the only true recognition for the Christian athlete in this area,” said Brian Wagner, Haley’s father. “It means a lot to Haley and our family. And it means so much really because of what Taylor Haugen stood for.”
Wagner, the team captain of both Baker’s state semifinalist volleyball team and basketball team, earned the Haugen Trophy recommendation after enduring an extensive process. Each school in the Northwest Florida Daily News readership area is encouraged to nominate a senior who best fits the Haugen Trophy profile, and this year 11 nominees were put forth.
Wagner and the other nominees were interviewed in person and by phone, and they also had to submit lengthy applications.
The decision-making also includes all four former winners of the trophy, all of whom are lifetime voters for the annual winner. Caise Vickery, the award’s first recipient, was integral in interviewing Wagner for the award and he was on hand Monday for Wagner’s announcement.
“Haley stood out in the interview process simply because she came across as so loving, so genuine in wanting to serve other people,” said Vickery. “I never met Taylor Haugen, but everything I’ve ever heard about him tells me how much helping other people meant to him. And Haley fits right in with that concept.”
On track to serve as Baker’s 2013 valedictorian, Wagner currently leads her class with a weighted GPA of 4.65. She has also been active in multiple extracurricular activities, many of which are designed to positively impact the lives of children. In her off time, she serves as a StudentLife for Kids counselor, a children’s church worship leader and a teacher at her church’s vacation bible school.
For Wagner, the chance to be honored with a trophy that celebrates the characteristics of Taylor Haugen was overwhelming.
“I really don’t have the words to describe how much of an honor this is,” said Wagner. “It means a lot to me as well as my family. To me, there’s no greater honor in this area for a high school senior than this award. When you think of the criteria involved, what it takes to get nominated … . To be seen as someone that fits all of those criteria in the same way that Taylor Haugen did, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
Now unveiled as the 2013 winner, Wagner will receive the Haugen Trophy at the All Sports Association’s annual FCA breakfast, where an estimated 1,500 students will be on hand. The breakfast is scheduled for Feb. 8.