Published: November 27, 2013
Austin and Travis Meachum gaze at the cavernous surroundings of a seven-bedroom rental house they're temporarily calling home. Even the immense size of the dwelling can't begin to compare with the amount of appreciation they feel on this Thanksgiving Day.
Loss has shaped their perspective, both on the football field and on a much more personal level. The pain of suffering through a 4-6 football season in 2012 suddenly became a minor detail after learning their house was one of 486 consumed by summer's Black Forest fire, the state's most destructive blaze.
"You never think it would happen to you, but then when we went back to the house for the first time, seeing that pile of ash and debris, it hits you," said Travis, a sophomore starter at cornerback. "Looking back, there wasn't anything that I would have grabbed. Knowing that my family was OK meant the most. You can replace stuff."
Rebuilding has come in a variety of ways. Not only will the Meachums soon break ground on a new house - on the site of the previous dwelling near Shoup Road and Black Forest Road - but their Pine Creek football team (11-2) also can break new ground by winning Saturday's 11 a.m. 4A state-title game against Montrose (12-1) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"This season has just been a major ride," said Austin, the team's leading receiver with 34 grabs for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. "It's crazy to think my last game will be at Mile High, going out as a senior and playing for the 4A title."
At this time last year, the football team found itself at its lowest point in school history, just one season removed from enjoying its finest hour at the 4A title game in 2011. Despite a loss to Valor Christian, the Eagles had finally made a historical breakthrough after previous playoff disappointments.
Just about everything that could go wrong did in 2012. Close losses and key injuries mounted as the Eagles spiraled to an 0-5 start. They won four of their last five but missed the playoffs to break a seven-year streak.
But that paled in comparison to the personal loss felt by the Pine Creek family over a catastrophic week in mid-June. A total of 48 students and two faculty members lost their homes in the blaze that blackened more than 14,280 acres in north El Paso County.
"We look forward to that community coming back," Eagles coach Todd Miller said. "We look forward to Pine Creek supporting Black Forest, and Black Forest supporting Pine Creek. It's a partnership. Going through the last year helps us appreciate what we went through, both as a football team and as a community."
Miller and the Eagles staff took it a step further, creating an alternate third jersey that raised money for fire victims. The black uniform top contained a Black Forest fire patch. Instead of last names on the back nameplate, the words "One Team" were chosen to characterize the singular fight and road to recovery all were experiencing.
It took the Meachum brothers by surprise as Pine Creek, then 1-2 after a nonleague schedule that included three 5A teams, prepared to start 4A league play against Vista Ridge.
"The first time I saw that uniform, I got a little teary," Austin said. "We were all a little shocked when we saw those jerseys for the first time. The way our coaches dedicated these to the fire victims and took the time to do that, it meant a lot. We all knew we had a reason to go out there and play our best. We had something more to play for, and it brought us all closer."
The 42-7 domination of the Wolves on Sept. 20 broke a two-game skid. Since then, the Eagles haven't lost. With one more win, Pine Creek will hoist its first state championship football trophy.
But before then, the brothers, and many others, will pause to give thanks. They've learned not to take anything for granted, especially with the opportunity to enjoy family - their mother and grandparents also live in the rental house - while others still struggle to find comfort.
By spring, a new Meachum family house will near completion, a prospect that keeps the brothers motivated.
"I'm really excited to see how it turns out," Travis said. "They said it'll be bigger and better than what it was. We've all had to start from scratch again, and we've gotten a lot of help along the way. Thanks to everyone. It shows the kind of community we have."