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From a hospital bed in Portland, this tennis coach with right-sided cancer sits for his son’s high school debut

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Seth Meyer watches a livestream from his hospital bed at Maine Medical Center in Portland as his son Will makes his varsity debut for the Camden Hills Regional High School boys tennis team on Friday afternoon. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

ROCKPORT — When Will Meyer plays tennis, the voice in his head coaching him belongs to his father. Seth Meyer is Will’s tennis conscience.

“I always hear him correct me for technical errors. It’s ingrained in me,” said Will, 15, a freshman at Camden Hills Regional High School.

Will, the team’s No. 1 singles player, played his first high school tennis match Friday afternoon. He defeated Noah Nelson of Messalskee High in Oakland 6-1, 6-0.

Several dozen people came to watch, but Will played to one audience. He played for his 47-year-old father, a renowned tennis coach who trains some of the best high school tennis players in the state.

From his hospital bed at Maine Medical Center, about 80 miles away, Seth watched his son compete via a livestream sent to his iPhone.

“I’ve seen Will play a thousand games, and every game brings me so much joy,” he said after Will’s game.

Seth was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January. He was taken to Maine Med by ambulance on February 6 and has remained there ever since, after numerous complications and surgeries.

He spent a month in the surgical intensive care unit with much of his life hanging in the balance.

The Maine tennis community is small and close-knit, and Seth is a well-known advocate for the sport throughout the state.

A former state champion at Cony High in Augusta, he has dedicated his life to teaching the game to both youth and adults.

Noah Capetta, in his eighth season as Camden Hills High’s boys tennis coach, Seth has known him for 17 years, when they began working together at the Midcoast Recreation Center in Rockport, where Seth is the tennis director. They are doubles partners and neighbors; Seth coached Capetta’s three children, just as Capetta now coaches his son.

Capetta’s wife, Kathleen, also has cancer. The families, the Midcoast Recreation Center and their community are all in this together, Capetta said.

“Seth, Erin and Will are like family to us,” he said. “I’ve known Will since the day he was born.”

Erin Meyer, Will’s mother, set up the impromptu livestream of Will’s match, which required her to attach her cell phone to a fence surrounding the school’s four tennis courts. Erin watched her son play, surrounded by friends. She said she admired how much her son worked to earn the Windjammers’ No. 1 singles spot as a freshman. As soon as Will left the court, she pulled him into a hug.

“Hey, come here,” she said, extending her arm.

Erin Meyer hugs her son Will after he won the first singles match in a boys tennis match against Messalonskee on Friday in Rockport. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Friday was the first day Erin was home since Seth was admitted to the hospital. She has been camping at Maine Med for more than two months, often sleeping in a chair next to his bed. She spends most of her days consulting with the many doctors involved in Seth’s case.

Family and friends are staying at the Meyers’ home in Camden to care for Will, the couple’s only child.

But Erin wouldn’t miss Will’s debut match and made sure her husband wouldn’t miss it either, even if he had to watch it from a distance. They had been looking forward to it for so long.

“Seth and I have talked about Will’s entire life about how excited we are for his first high school tennis match. I’m devastated that he can’t be here today,” Erin said. “He gets so nervous. He doesn’t get nervous around any other students, but when he looks at Will he does. But he’s excited. He’s excited.”

Krista Chase, Seth’s sister, was in Seth’s room on the oncology floor of the hospital, watching her brother watch Will’s match. Seth had to undergo a tracheotomy and was unable to speak for a while. Although he can talk a little now, he remained silent throughout the match.

“He didn’t say much, but he kept score,” Chase said. “The coach in him always looks at it from a technical perspective. My brother is Steady Eddie. He is calm, cool and collected, even as he battles cancer.”

Krista Chase of Topsham watches her cousin Will Meyer compete in a tennis match at Camden Hills Regional High. Chase’s brother, Will Meyer, has been at Maine Medical Center in Portland since early February after being diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The support for the family was enormous. As of Friday afternoon, an online crowdfunding campaign for the family had raised more than $90,600, nearly double its $50,000 goal.

Tennis has been an integral part of Seth’s life since childhood. At Cony High, he helped his team win a state title in 1993 under coach Carolyn Neighoff, his mother. As the tennis director at Midcoast Recreation Center since 2005, he directs competitions, camps and clinics throughout the year. He has worked to organize charity tennis competitions including Serve to End World Hunger and Serving to Prevent Homelessness.

It is in his work with younger players that he has made the biggest impact. Players like Lydia Garofalo, an eighth-grader at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield, and Drake Turcotte, the No. 1 singles player at Skowhegan Area High School, travel more than an hour each way for lessons with Seth. They said they made the commitment because Seth makes tennis fun, and they see the results when they hit the court.

“It’s a big commitment, but it’s also a big reward,” said Drake, who helped the River Hawks reach the Class A state championship game last spring. “I have had hundreds of hours of lessons from Seth. I am honored to work with him.”

In recent months, Lydia has regularly sent Seth letters to let him know how her tennis is going and that she is thinking of him. When she started taking lessons with him three years ago, she thought about giving up the sport. He made her love it again.

“I certainly wouldn’t have continued without him as a coach,” she says. “It was always the highlight of my week. … I just want to make sure he’s in a good mood.”

Seth and Erin said Lydia’s correspondence — including handmade cards and a bobblehead from Maria Sharapova — helped them through this difficult time.

“My favorite part of my job is coaching young people,” says Seth. “The notes Lydia sends just brighten my day.”

Seth’s favorite player to coach is his son Will.

Will grew up with the game. As a baby he sat in the ball cart and watched his parents play. He watched his father coach so many players and revered the Camden Hills players. One of those players, Ezra LeMole, was at Will’s game on Friday. LeMole, a 2022 Camden Hills graduate and Middlebury College sophomore, was home on a break from school and came out to support the Meyers.

What makes Seth an exceptional coach is his ability to connect. LeMole said, “He matched my humor and personality so well. Some coaches don’t have that.”

Camden Hills freshman Will Meyer serves during a tennis match against Messalskee’s Noah Nelson in Rockport on Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

While watching Will play, Erin said she saw similarities between her husband and son. For example, during Friday’s game, Will seemed to be thinking two or three shots ahead. He had sent his opponent into the same part of the court with multiple shots, only to fire a shot to the other side where he had no chance of reaching it.

“That’s because his dad did it to him a hundred times until he figured it out,” Erin said.

Seth said Will showed an aptitude for tennis from an early age. When Will was in kindergarten, his class did projects involving the number 100. Will decided his project should be a 100-shot rally with his father.

“We got it on the first try,” Seth said. “That’s not bad for a five-year-old.”

Like Seth, Will tends to remain calm on the court and not let a bad shot or close call worry him. The importance of sportsmanship is the biggest thing he learned from his father, he said. If something doesn’t go your way on the field, it’s best to have a short memory and move on to the next play.

“Like he said, you gotta have the brains of a goldfish,” Will said.

On Thursday, Seth and Will went over a list of items for the competition. Have you strung your racket? Do you have all your equipment? Are you ready?

Tennis has been a part of Will’s life since before he was born. Seth’s colleagues at the Midcoast Recreation Center threw a baby shower for Erin and Seth.

“This is his home away from home,” Erin said. As for father and son, she added: “It’s great to see their bond.”

There is hope that with physical therapy Seth can become strong enough to go home soon. Then he was able to watch Will play a high school game in person and thank everyone for their help.

“I am overwhelmed by the support from the tennis community and beyond,” said Seth. “It brings tears to my eyes.”

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