Sometimes sports are more than just a game. Sometimes they're a way to cope for teammates who've gone through tough circumstances that are more important than sports.
The Lewis-Palmer community, and specifically its boys' soccer team, had a hellish 2013. In April, one of their own was lost when former player Taegon Kwiatkowski passed away.
As if that weren't hard enough, Mother Nature had a second test waiting when the most destructive fire in Colorado's history struck the Black Forest. Most of the team's players and coaches were evacuated from their homes.
"We were all on pre-evac immediately," coach Brian Barkey said of the fire. "We all had to rush and pack our cars and wait. It had a huge impact on our community.
"This team has been put through the wringer this offseason. Losing Taegon was absolutely devastating to all of us, but it showed us how precious life is and it brought these guys closer together in support of each other."
Although no players lost homes in the fire, several had close calls. Seniors Gavin Grabb and Casey O'Conner both returned to their homes to see their lawns scorched, their houses saved by firefighters.
"The fire was pretty rough on all of us; I had to move to four different houses throughout it because it kept getting bigger," said O'Conner, a midfielder/defender. "I had to go to regionals for club soccer when it was happening, and the entire time I assumed my house had burned down."
Grabb was also evacuated from the start. He says that after all the team has been through the past four months, getting out onto the field together was a welcomed retreat.
"We've all grown up together, going to school and playing soccer," said Grabb, a center-back. "We're just happy to come together again on the field. I've never seen a team this close or with this much chemistry in my life."
Although the teammates will finally be able to move on and play, they won't forget their tumultuous offseason. The Rangers will wear a "TK" patch on their jerseys to honor their former teammate and have dedicated the season to him.
They also will be raising money for the Black Forest Fire Department - the men and women who helped save their houses - Sept. 24 during a home game with Cheyenne Mountain. There will be various fundraising activities, including a silent auction at halftime and tailgate before the game.
As for what the Rangers will look like on the field - the whole squad is excited.
"This program has been ready to play again since we missed the playoffs last October," Barkey said.
Grabb added that the team is looking to "set a standard for future teams and make a deep playoff run." O'Conner took it a step further, saying the team "can do some special things, and possibly make it to the state championship game."
Whatever the Rangers do this season, they're happy to be doing it together.