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Ken Colmone plays golf, coaches it, loves the challenges and lessons it provides. He lives next to El Paso Golf Club.

A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, his sons, Jake and Kyle, grew up St. Louis Cardinals fans. Yet, in golf, father and sons were in lockstep. His game was their game, a shared passion that made a strong bond stronger.

On July 19, Jake Colmone stopped at home to report a golfing success.

“He came over and said, ‘We played nine and I shot 32 tonight,’ ” Ken Colmone said.

The next day, Jake Colmone, 22, went to the dentist. On his way home, in mid-afternoon, his sport utility vehicle crashed about three miles east of Kappa.

Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rang.

“To have somebody come to your house and tell you your son was dead … it was devastating,” Colmone said, his voice cracking. “You didn’t believe it. You just thought he was going to walk through the door at any moment.”

A former three-sport athlete at El Paso-Gridley High School, Jake Colmone was a bright light for those who knew him. His death brought family and friends to their knees.

As the El Paso, Gridley and Kappa communities rallied around the Colmones, supporting them in every way, Ken Colmone wondered how he would go on.

Quickly, he reached a conclusion ... it would be without golf.

Everything about it would remind him of Jake, the 2010 regional medalist for his father’s El Paso-Gridley Titans.

“I couldn’t even walk on the golf course,” he said. “I just thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ”

The season's opening practice was less than a month away. Colmone told his assistant coach, Jim Bagnell, ‘You’re going to have to do it.’ ”

A few days later, Bagnell showed up at Colmone’s house.

“He was crying and I was doing the same thing,” Colmone said. “Finally he said, ‘You know, this (coaching) is what Jake would want you to do.’ ”

They were the magic words.

This weekend, Colmone brought EPG to the Class 1A State Tournament for the fourth straight year. The past two ended in state championships. Having graduated the top three players from those teams — including Kyle Colmone — another state berth seemed unlikely.

Yet, after struggling in the regional, the Titans returned to their home course for the sectional and came within a stroke of the title. The runner-up finish sent them back to state.

Their coach felt a presence that day.

“It crosses your mind a lot,” he said of Jake’s death. “You think … maybe somebody’s looking down on you, trying to help you a little bit.”

Colmone choked up again. None of this is easy. But golf helps, and those who play for Colmone may not know how much they’ve helped.

In August, it was awkward for coach and players. Neither knew what to say. As the season progressed, they connected.

“They’ve been great,” Colmone said. “They talked to me after a while, just kind of idle chit-chat. We tried to get back to normal, whatever normal is now.”

Colmone is immersed in golf and school. He teaches driver education, history, geography and economics at EPG. At times it all seems normal. Then he is in tears.

“It’s when people text you things like, ‘Jake’s looking down on you,’ ” he said. “Or you sit at home … Kyle’s gone to school now (Lake Land College) and it’s just my wife (Anita) and I. You sit there and you stare at each other.

“I couldn’t begin to tell you how you feel and the emotional roller coaster you run through.”

EPG didn’t win another title this weekend. That’s OK. Sometimes you win by playing, competing, sharing a laugh in the team van.

Golf couldn't mend a broken heart, but it got a father and coach from his knees to his feet. It was there when he needed it most.

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Randy Kindred is at rkindred@pantagraph.com. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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