CAYCE | John Ed Cahill queued up an old voicemail from his grandfather.
It was just after sunrise on Saturday morning, and the Myrtle Beach senior was preparing for his final high school team match. The message was one he saved from November of 2017.
For 25 seconds, he was again more grandson than tennis player.
Cahill hit play.
“Hey Jed, this is Coach and Reese calling,” Rivers Lynch’s voice begins. “We wanted to call and wish you luck today. We wish we could be there to watch you play. But our spirit will be there pulling for you 100 percent. So you have a great match, use that brain you’re so blessed with, and good things will happen. We love you, and keep us updated when it’s over. Love you. Bye.”
Not long after listening to that message one more time, Cahill and his Seahawk teammates won the Class 4A state tennis championship at the Cayce Tennis Center. They defeated A.C. Flora 6-0, and it was Cahill, of all people who clinched the victory when he won the team’s fourth match of the day with 6-1, 6-2 win over Rick Hewitt.
There was one celebration with Cahill, then another when his younger brother closed out the final match with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Michael Davis. And then another up a long walkway on the primary courts when South Carolina High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton handed Principal Zach McQuigg the trophy.
The biggest cheers, though, were when Cahill helped his grandmother, Theresa, hoist the hardware that embodied the memory of her late husband.
Lynch, the longtime coach and teacher at Myrtle Beach, died in the early morning hours of April 28 from a heart attack. He was 72 years old.
Two days later, the Seahawk tennis team, which includes Cahill and his younger brother, Rivers, started down their playoff path that will never be forgotten.
“It’s like a movie script,” Cahill said.
AN EMOTIONAL RIDE
Myrtle Beach won every set Saturday over A.C. Flora. The Seahawks lost only 18 games, and only one set was decided by two or fewer games.
This is what opponents have come to expect this season, when Myrtle Beach was 23-1 overall, but especially in the last two weeks.
After a first-round bye, Myrtle Beach defeated Hilton Head 6-0 on April 30. A few days after that, it defeated South Aiken 4-2. And then Monday, the Seahawks made quick work of Beaufort with a 6-0 victory to claim the lower state crown.
Friday’s charter bus ride to the Columbia area, though, was quiet.
“The one here was business,” Rivers Cahill said. “[The players were] thinking about the match, thinking about coach, how were we going to win this.”
Just 63 minutes after it started, John Ed Cahill’s win answered those questions, at least the physical part.
As for the mental, the team has been riding a wave of adrenaline since the playoffs began.
A tear-filled opener against Hilton Head back at the Myrtle Beach Tennis Center gave way to more the morning of their second match, when Lynch was laid to rest.
The lower state championship, though, proved that the Seahawks could harness all this emotion.
“I just wanted them to focus on their own court and not worry about the outside circumstances,” said Jeremy Finger, the team’s interim coach. “And they did. They did just that. To win 6-0 was really fantastic. It is really an honor.
“It just goes to show how calm these kids were. They really focused on the task at hand.”
The task at hand wasn’t winning a state championship. Rather, it was something more.
It was about honoring Lynch.
Theresa Lynch, whom just about everyone calls “Reese,” bounced between courts on Saturday, much like she has done since the early 1980s when her eldest daughter started playing in seventh grade and then continued to do after her husband took over the Myrtle Beach girls tennis program in 1989. He previously coached girls and boys basketball, volleyball, track and baseball.
“He coached all those other sports,” Theresa said after the final on-courts cheers faded. “But the main thing was the young people. He felt like the life lessons tennis taught them and the way you had to think on the court, make decisions, was really important. That is what he tried to get the boys to see.”
Absorbing that message paid off in another state title for the Myrtle Beach tennis program.
The last one came in 2009, when Lynch was celebrated for winning one more before his initial retirement due to budget cuts within the school district. However, he returned to the helm of the Seahawks’ program three years ago.
Posthumously, he now has one more championship to his name.
John Cahill, the school’s athletics director, John Ed’s and Rivers’ father, and Rivers Lynch’s son-in-law, has held so many roles over the last two weeks that he’s lost count.
In addition to his family responsibilities during the grieving process, he’s also acted a spokesperson for numerous media interviews. Because of Lynch’s death, the story itself has grown the further the Seahawks have gone in the postseason. An SCHSL official said there were more media present on Saturday than in recent years.
On top of that, roughly 260 fans wearing Myrtle Beach gear were in attendance for a sport that usually draws in the 10s or 20s, especially when that match is three hours from home.
“It is very surreal,” Cahill said. “It’s surreal for myself. It’s surreal for Coach Finger. It’s surreal for the kids. There have been some emotional highs and lows these last 13 days.”
Undoubtedly, Lynch’s legacy was about family, and he expanded that reach beyond the bounds of blood.
In fact, prior to this season, he did his part to keep that going. He changed his philosophy of how many players he allowed on the team, creating a Go Fund Me account so that the roster could include 23 players, all of whom received a jersey and were allowed to travel for away games.
“Coach wasn’t just John Ed’s and Rivers’ granddad. He was a granddad to all of us,” Seahawk senior Dever Smith said. “That’s just something he shared with us. We’re really just a huge family. We rallied around each other the last two weeks so we could do it for Coach.”
Nearly everyone referred to Lynch as “Coach,” even the Cahill boys. (John Ed had trouble saying “Grandpa” when he was younger, so he fell in line, too.)
There were a lot of stories about Coach on Saturday. And although some tears fell, especially when people hugged Theresa Lynch, here she was, clapping and cheering for every player during the individual medals ceremony and even stopping to wish Bishop England players good luck prior to their matches.
“He would not have wanted it to be a detriment to these boys, which is what we adults were all worried about,” she said. “Most of the kids have not had this type of shocking experience. But I think watching them and how they become a team together has just been invaluable. I knew he was a wonderful person. I just didn’t know everybody else did, too.”
After countless friends reached out to her in the days after her husband’s death, hundreds crammed into the church for his funeral or the number of embraces she had Saturday, she said she knows now.
Lynch’s memory is entrenched in the community, starting with the young men who played for him. In many ways, the state finals would have been a celebration, win or lose.
“We didn’t need to do it, because what he would care about is how close this group of guys has become together,” John Ed Cahill said. “We’re now brothers. We’re not teammates. We’re brothers. We’re family.”