David and Eileen Fanning and their four boys were a typical Southern Arizona family of the 20th century. They left Illinois, followed the sun, took a chance and started over.
David Fanning, who retired from the phone company in Sandwich, Ill., became active in the Sahuarita area school system and so distinguished himself that the gymnasium at Continental Elementary School is named in his honor. His family settled in and flourished, in life and in sports.
His son John coached Rio Rico to the 2004 boys state 3A basketball championship and is now a middle school principal.
Another son, Steve, is established in the floor and tile business and has spent 16 seasons coaching at Sahuarita High School. Once, after scoring four touchdowns in a youth league football game, Steve's friends began to call him "Skeets," after world-class hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah.
Another son, Chris, won the state golf championship as a high school sophomore, but was so into baseball, so into his beloved Chicago Cubs, that his family and friends call him "Cub." Not Chris. Not Coach Fanning. Cub.
For the last 16 years, Skeets and Cub coached the Sahuarita softball team with such authority that the Mustangs won 391 games, made eight state championship appearances and won titles in 1999 and 2011.
Cub is the head coach, with 413 career victories, but down the stretch this season, Skeets made out the lineup. They are almost inseparable, brothers who fill their conversations with idle chat of baseball and the woeful Cubs even though the Fanning family has become a softball institution in Sahuarita.
They won it all in 1999, going 31-3-1 in what was probably the single best sports team in school history. And this year, favored from start to finish, they won it again. Sahuarita went 32-4, won the 4A-II state championship and finished with 22 consecutive victories.
After the game, Chris Fanning, Cub, told the Mustangs that he was retiring from coaching.
"It was emotional," Skeets says. "I think a lot of the girls suspected Cub was stepping down, but when he made it official, it put a lump in a few throats. Cub isn't one of those it's-all-about-me guys, but it was a pretty emotional way for him to go out."
The beauty of sports in small-town America, of a place like Sahuarita, is that the Fanning brothers chose to stay and make it work rather than rush off to the first big city on the map.
Cub left town for college, first to NAU and then to play baseball at New Mexico State. You can imagine what it was like at Kindall/Sancet Stadium on opening day, 1989, when the Aggies were matched against an Arizona starting lineup littered with future big-leaguers Trevor Hoffman, Scott Erickson, J.T.Snow and Alan Zinter.
David and Eileen Fanning and their boys slipped quietly into the small gathering of New Mexico State fans to watch Cub start his first college game, against Erickson, who would win a school-record 18 games that year.
Cub went 3 for 4 against Erickson that day, hit .408 for the year, made the all-region team a year later and, as an Aggie senior, smacked a team-high 12 home runs.
"I played whatever was in season, but baseball was my game," Cub remembers. "As a kid, I worked on the range at Haven Golf Course, played whiffleball in the yard and became a gym rat. I knew I was going to have a life that included athletics."
After his college baseball days, Cub moved to El Paso with his wife, Wendy, a former NMSU basketball player, where he planned to teach math and coach baseball. That lasted one year.
"Someone stole my car," he says. "And later, someone broke into my apartment. I was out of there pretty quickly." By 1993, Cub returned home, to Sahuarita, taking an entry-level job as a coach and teacher.
For the next 13 years, he might've been the busiest coach in the Arizona territory. He coached girls basketball for five years, spent 10 seasons as the head football coach and anchored every season by coaching softball. In that stretch of years, 1993-2005, he was a head coach for 33 of the possible 39 coaching seasons.
And not once did he coach his favorite sport, baseball.
"Didn't miss it at all," he says. "I enjoyed coaching basketball more than anything else. You have more influence on the game. It's your show."
Now the show changes. Chris "Cub" Fanning is still a relatively young man, 42, with four young children of his own. He will work in the Sahuarita administration, teach three math classes and be the school's director of athletics.
"People say I went out on top," he says. "But I didn't go out at all. In a lot of ways, I'm just getting started."