Saugus HS Equipment Donation Benefits Football Players In American Samoa

By Patrick McHugh
March 18, 2015

Nearly 5,000 Pacific Ocean miles and four time zones separate Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California and Tafuna High School in American Samoa. Despite the distance, however, the shared love of the sport of football has united the two schools.

In one of his first acts as head coach at Saugus in the summer of 2003, Jason Bornn took inventory of the Centurions’ equipment shed. A stranger approached Bornn and asked if he would be interested in donating any of his equipment to the football programs in American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States. At the time, Saugus had nothing to donate, but Bornn kept the idea in the back of his mind.

The coach was back in the equipment shed last spring when he realized he had a surplus of equipment that was not suitable for his program any longer.

“Over the course of 10 years you start rotating new stuff in with older stuff and you rotate the older stuff out,” said Bornn, also a teacher at Saugus. “We already had the new stuff; you do that every few years anyway. It’s just that it had been a while since we had done it and had allowed the older stuff to build up.”

Because all football helmets in the U.S. undergo a rigorous inspection, Bornn found that some of his older equipment might no longer meet standards for certification.

“It had gotten to the point where some of it was borderline unserviceable for us,” Bornn said. “In the United States when it comes to football, the helmets all have to be certified. When they reach a certain age they’re no longer going to be certified.”

Hoping to find a program that could benefit from his surplus, Bornn took to the Internet in search of a recipient. He reached out to Okland Salave’a, a teacher and head football coach at Tafuna High School in American Samoa.

“When Coach Bornn first contacted me, I was surprised,” Salave’a said. “We have equipment, it’s just the fact that we don’t get the chance to refurbish it. Usually the equipment that we get, most of it is a hand down anyway or a donation of equipment.”

The Samoan Islands’ remote location, as well as its tropical climate, makes it difficult for programs to acquire and maintain serviceable football equipment.

“It usually lasts about two to three years because of the condition we have here where it’s always raining, it’s always wet,” Salave’a said. “The equipment doesn’t stay as long as it does in the States.”

Eager to accept any donation to come his way, Salave’a helped Bornn coordinate with Tony Feist, the President of Island Cargo Support in California, to organize a shipping plan. Last March the equipment arrived on the island: 100 sets of shoulder pads, 40 helmets, nearly 200 practice jerseys, thigh and knee pads, blocking and tackling dummies, water coolers, cleats, dumbbells, weight plates as well as various other football-related items.

“It’s a blessing for our kids to get a donation like that from Coach Bornn and their institute,” Salave’a said. “It’s a never-ending war, so-to-speak, for us here in Samoa. We’re always looking for equipment, year in and year out. To get a great amount of donation like that from a school is a blessing.”

The equipment was dispersed among Tafuna’s varsity and JV squads, of which there are about 50 players. Salave’a also passed along some of the equipment to Nu’uuli Poly Tech High School, also located in Samoa.

“I knew without a shadow of a doubt that those kids were going to use whatever we gave them,” Bornn said. “I could either throw it in the trash or recycle it, or I could give it to people I know are going to use it.”

The benefit of the equipment seemed to aid Tafuna last fall. The Warriors went undefeated in the regular season before falling in the American Samoa High School Athletic Association championship.

“You don’t find too many people like Coach Bornn that will donate,” Salave’a said. “Most of the equipment was hardly used, so it benefitted our kids and our program a lot. Words are not enough to say thank you to Coach Bornn and his staff and especially the school for donating all of that stuff for our program here. I wish we could visit their school, so our kids could say thank you in person. But it’s so expensive for us to try and get off of this island.”

Bornn may never meet the Tafuna players who benefitted from his and Saugus’ generosity, but that is of little importance to him. Knowing that his donation has benefitted others is reward enough.

“It feels good to help out a program, especially in a territory of the United States where football is such a big, big part of what those kids do,” Bornn said. “I knew they would definitely use it, enjoy it and put it to good use.”

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