Kristin Barbour, a 2016 Monarch High School alumna, looked down on the blaze from a small passenger window in the sky.
Even miles up on a trip back from Chicago, where she’d just seen her family for Christmas, now headed back to California to return to her Ph.D. studies in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California-Irvine, the 23-year-old could point out some landmarks of her hometown and the pockets of fire scorching through them.
“It was definitely devastating to see from the air, the fire like ripping through our (town),” Barbour said of her view of the Marshall Fire, which broke out Dec. 30 and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. “Seeing those places burn down was pretty amazing and horrific.”
Barbour had played town hero plenty of times as the local soccer star at Monarch, but she, like so many others, felt helpless. From her view, the scenes of its wreckage unfolded through social media and texts with family and friends. Her closest look at it came aboard her connecting flight from Denver International Airport.
Barbour said she sent an aerial picture of the scene to her parents, whose Superior home was in the evacuation area. Showing multiple pockets of burning sites, it helped squash any left doubt that the unimaginable was once again hitting a community that had already faced its lion’s share — the Table Mesa King Soopers shooting, COVID spikes — in 2021.
“That was a reality check for my family, for sure,” Barbour said.
By the next morning, while her parents’ home had survived, it was a chasm between many of their friends, former teachers, coaches and teammates, whose homes were left in rubble, still smoking under a long-awaited snow that seemed to come just a little too late for the drought-stricken state.
“It wasn’t even a question in my mind to try and help out in any way I could,” said Barbour, who has been integral in the community’s relief efforts since then. Shortly after the outbreak, she set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds for families of current and former Monarch soccer players.
“We knew two girls my age, who I’ve played with, who lost their homes completely,” Barbour said. “So, that’s kind of what started this as I knew two people specifically in the program who lost their home. Then we started reaching out to older girls who played for the Monarch girls’ soccer program as well as current players, asking them if they knew of anyone related to the program who was impacted in some way.”
By Friday afternoon, Barbour’s GoFundMe had raised $4,000. She hopes more can be collected, and when it is, she said the money will be divided and given to the MoHi soccer families who lost their homes.
“We’re still searching for extra families that might have been impacted” from the soccer community, she said, “but right now we’re at about six families who have completely lost their home.”
And like the wide reach of destruction across Louisville and Superior, the ensuing helping hand has too been extensive.
Feet on the ground
Monarch’s running community has helped raise money as well as set up donation sites for the displaced. A GoFundMe put together by the Coyotes assistant running coaches and former CU products Laura Thweatt and Maddie Alm had raised more than $26,000 for around 25 MoHi cross country and track and field families by Friday.
“I think there’s something so special about the running community,” said Alm, who ran at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year. “You know, it’s kind of like this shared experience that we all have. And so, when one person is struggling, everyone wants to reach out and help. And so it’s just been, like I said, so humbling to see, you know, big companies and local people, the whole range really reaching out to say, ‘What can I do to help you guys?’ It’s been incredible.”
Alm and Thweatt, along with the help of Coyotes head cross country and track and field coach Kent Rieder and others, helped set up a drive for Monarch families who needed immediate help with clothes and other essentials in the days following the fire.
“I can’t tell you how many bags of clothing, boxes of food, the things that the community has provided,” Thweatt said. The drives also took in apparel from running sponsors, including Thweatt’s as a professional runner. “It’s just been overwhelming.”
Elsewhere in the athletic community, Monarch’s winter teams were given a place to practice when their high school, although undamaged by the fire, had been without water and was not cleared for entry early last week.
Broomfield athletic director Steve Shelton said the Coyotes’ boys basketball and wrestling teams used Broomfield’s gym during that time, while their girls basketball team split time between Broomfield and Holy Family. The Broomfield community will look to help those affected now and “a month or a year from now when the need is still there,” he said.
Thank you to our @Eagle_athletics and @HF_Athletics brothers and sisters for hosting our basketball programs the past two days. We are so thankful for the hospitality. Love y’all 🖤💛 @garrett0435 #skoyotes #copreps @BVSDcolorado @BVSDActivities @BoCoPreps @CHSAA pic.twitter.com/XPwXdAVM0L
— Monarch Athletics (@mohi_athletics) January 4, 2022
The Monarch hockey team, much like its basketball and wrestling counterparts, has had to practice at the Apex Center Ice Arena in Arvada as the Sport Stable in downtown Superior has had to clean out the soot and ash.
The need even goes beyond those who lost homes and possessions in the blaze, as many remaining houses have had to deal with a lack of potable water, lack of electricity, families and friends hosting those who need a place to stay and the emotional trauma that has resulted.
The surge of Omicron hasn’t helped as Monarch school officials and coaches alike are trying to find ways to help their student-athletes in whatever ways they can. The combination of the fire and COVID has led to game postponements in every sport but wrestling.
“We have people having issues with uniforms. We have people having issues with Chromebooks to access school, various things,” Monarch athletic director Eric Gustafson said. “I guess when we look at the mission of why we exist as school-based athletics is we’re students first. Really, our goal is to get students back in school with their Chromebooks feeling safe to try to engage in learning, to try to not feel like they’re being left out because they can’t engage because they’re trying to get their homes shaped up or because they’re trying to locate Chromebooks.
“There’s a lot more to it than just whether or not we have a game in the evening. It’s taking care of the whole kid, first and foremost, and making sure they can access their education. Then we just piece it together and see what we can do for after-school activities and athletics.”
Recouping some necessities
For some, the need has been as simple as buying new sporting gear to replace what was lost. Jonah Smith, a freshman basketball player at Monarch, stepped up for his teammates by setting up a GoFundMe for such a cause just a few days after the fire tore through his community. By Saturday afternoon, he had raised nearly $3,000. He and his coach, Tim DeBerry, used the money to buy and distribute shoes, practice gear, backpacks and basketballs.
“I just saw how everyone had nothing and I knew that wouldn’t be the first thing on their mind,” Smith explained. “I think getting back to normalcy would help everyone so I feel like getting back on the basketball court would help everyone. I just tried to start out by getting everyone things they need to get back on the basketball court.”
The impact felt by the athletic community reached far beyond Monarch, as other high school programs have planned events to raise money for the Coyotes and other fire victims such as Grandview, Pine Creek and Broomfield.
Payton Holloway, a former Broomfield basketball, football and track athlete who graduated in 2015, didn’t waste any time jumping in to help. He and his parents, Scott and Erica, distributed their address on social media and asked people in the Broomfield community to stop by with donations of winter clothes and coats.
As coaches and community leaders spread the word, lines of cars showed up from all over the Denver Metro area. People from as far away as Aurora and Conifer personally delivered donations to the Holloways that ranged anywhere from clothing and everyday household items such as dog food and water to gift cards to grocery stores.
The Holloways had to close their home to donations after just six hours because of the overwhelming response. They ran out of room.
“My parents put out their address and all that stuff and I didn’t think at the time they were really worried about it because we didn’t think it’d be that many people,” Payton said. “Everybody just started coming. My parents and my brother were taking donations all day. My brother’s friends and my dad, they would literally come out to the front yard, they would grab boxes and then they would go inside and put them down. They’d go right back out and there were another two or three cars. It was just like a constant flow of three hours of people just bringing stuff in and out, in and out.”
Helped over 20 people today hoping for more as the weeks go on! Thanks to everyone who donated clothes, supplies and gift cards! Also thanks to those who came and got what they needed! Continue to spread the word! pic.twitter.com/b6SPTcQPmX
— Payton Holloway (@PTHolloway17) January 2, 2022
Now and again, it’s time to rebuild and heal. A sense of community has paved the way.
“We appreciate it as a Monarch community most definitely, but I think that’s been the way Colorado has been and has come together,” Gustafson said. “I think it says a lot about our state leaders and the way we do things as Coloradans because we’re not the only ones to ever suffer a tragedy like this. There have been fires in the past and tragedies in the past and school shootings in the past and other various things that have affected our school communities. I think the state has invariably come together in a great way. It makes you proud to live in a state like this.”