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Transformations: The Gavin family fills a void with soccer

Jan 13, 2013
Photo by Jason Skoda

Desert Vista sophomore Hannah Gavin (No. 4) and her family have coped as best as they can with the loss of her mother, Connie, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

As the youngest member of the Gavins broke into the clear, almost the whole soccer-loving family perked up from the sideline to see what Hannah would do with the ball at her feet.

Even the one who wasn't there physically — Connie Gavin — could still be heard.

"She is always out there with me," Hannah said. "I can hear her saying, ‘Get up. Keep moving.'"

The Gavin family has been a mainstay in the Desert Vista (Phoenix) program with Danny, a senior, and Hannah, a sophomore, playing now while older twin brothers, Scott and Tyler, played previously for the Thunder.

As good as they've been, the one who made the biggest impression over the years was Connie.

Even during her 22-month battle with pancreatic cancer, before she passed away on Nov. 1, she found a way to get to most of her children's games over the years.

"She had the craziest whistle and whenever we scored or did something good you could hear her," Danny said. "If you did something bad she didn't let you slide, either, and you could hear that just as easy. You could block out your coach if you wanted to but you could always hear her."

Now that she is gone there is a clear void and there is no denying the dynamic of the family is missing her presence, but to get a glimpse of her all they have to do is watch Hannah and Danny on the pitch.

They are hard-working, intense and about as competitive as they come.

To get an idea where those attributes come from, let their father, Joe, tell the story.
Photo by Jason Skoda

Joe Gavin, bottom, and his family have used soccer to help fill the void left from the death of his wife.

"We were just kids back in Virginia, and we called it the 1982 New Year's Eve Bowling Title," he remembered. "It started out as a best of five, but we ended up going 21 games. She wasn't going to let me win. No chance. She never gave in to anything."

And that toughness helped her fight off the most aggressive cancer there is. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are gone within six months. The disease eventually got the best of her, but not before she did a lot of things many don't have the time for.

Before she died, she took the time to write letters to each of her children with the help of one of her sisters. Joe gave them out on Christmas Day at the cemetery.

"It was really special," Hannah said. "Not having her here is so hard and (the letters) remind us that she will always be there."

Hannah is making a solid impression as a sophomore, getting quality minutes on a very good Thunder squad, while Danny played for Real Salt Lake Academy while attending Desert Vista until this year.

He felt the need to be at home more instead of making the trek to Casa Grande for the Real facility every day.

"With all that was going on I needed a break from the competitiveness," Danny said. "I needed a break from the stress and the grind and this gives me a chance to play with friends that I started out with years ago.

"It's been great. I love the opportunity to play with everybody again. It's a different role than I had at RSL and it nice to be back."

It wasn't long after Danny's debut with the Thunder that both the boys and girls squads qualified and won tournament titles at the Tempe Diablos Soccer Classic. The championship matches were being played at the same time on fields right next to each other.
Photo by Jason Skoda

Hannah (No. 4) is the youngest of four family members to play for the Thunder.

It came less than five weeks after 600 people showed respect at Connie's funeral service.

"Connie was an incredible woman," Joe said. "She would be very intense and she would have gone crazy. The girls won first and then boys soon after that. It was very emotional."

Danny, who says some private words to his mother before each match, said any success the Gavins have, before and in the future, is because of Connie's influence.

"From early in our childhood she showed it," he said. "She is the most fierce competitor I've known. It was passed down to all of us."

It made for some interesting family gatherings.

"Game nights were not good," Hannah laughed. "It could get ugly and she was at the head of it."

And make no mistake; Connie still is head of the family.

She may not be sitting in the camping chairs with the rest of the family while one of the Gavins is on a breakaway, but their approach to life has her imprint all over it.

"She fought the hardest fight there is," Hannah said. "We saw how she approached it and it left an impression that no matter what, you take everything head on and without fear. It's something that will always stick with all of us in everything we do."

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is an 18-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at or 480-272-2449.