Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Paul Hackworth tried to sneak in during halftime of the Brookhaven High School boys soccer team's opener Sept. 6 at Walnut Ridge.
It didn't take long, however, for his presence to be felt in multiple ways.
After a short greeting from Bearcats interim coach Allen Iacobucci and a hug from Brookhaven junior midfielder Kofi Viassy, Hackworth took a seat in the stands. He then got back to doing what came naturally to him, such as yelling in Spanish to the Bearcats players that they needed to drink more water to stay hydrated or pointing out that they were offside.
Not even a recent health scare could take the "coach" out of his personality.
Hackworth, who led Brook-haven to three City League championships and a pair of Division I district semifinals from 2007-11, was set to begin his sixth season as Bearcats coach when he went to bed Aug. 25.
When he awoke the next day, he wasn't able to see straight and quickly was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke.
Hackworth, 36, felt well enough later that week that he was released from the hospital. He continues to recuperate and isn't expected to return to coaching this season. In fact, whether he is able to resume his coaching career remains to be seen.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Hackworth said. "I've pretty much given up the job of coaching Brookhaven soccer. The stroke came in the coordination part of the brain and in a tiny blood vessel. I feel like I could teach today, but there's going to be some forgetfulness for a while. It's a shame that I lost my (coaching) position because of health reasons."
Hackworth teaches physics at Columbus Alternative School and is hoping to return to the classroom in early October. He plans to support the Bearcats' soccer program, which he took over in 2007 after previously serving as an assistant, as a fan.
Iacobucci and assistant coach Marc Johnson are overseeing the program.
"We're really thankful to have him back," said junior defender Mark Garin, who along with senior defender Emmanuel Achirem is a key returnee from a year ago, when the Bearcats went 14-3 and won their third City League championship in four years. "I didn't know anything about soccer before I started playing for him. He's taught me a lot. He's a really good coach and an awesome person."
A 1994 Liberty Union graduate, Hackworth took over the Brookhaven program when it was on the rise.
After the Bearcats won their first league title in 2005 and went 13-3 in 2006 under former coach James Himes, Hackworth helped to continue the run the last few seasons with rosters often comprised mostly of students originally from African and South American countries.
Despite having just 14 players in the program last season, Brookhaven defeated Centennial 3-1 for the City championship and was awarded the third seed for the Division II district tournament. The Bearcats lost to eighth-seeded Bexley 7-0 in their tournament opener.
Brookhaven, which has 16 players this fall, had its first three games postponed because of Hackworth's stroke.
Iacobucci, who was an assistant the past two years, doesn't expect to replace what Hackworth brought to the program the last five seasons.
"He is the program," Iaco-bucci said. "I told him this is his team and I'm just kind of holding down the fort until he gets back."
Beechcroft football team tough on defense
A year ago, the Beechcroft football team gave up an average of just 9.5 points and posted four shutouts on the way to a 9-2 record.
The Cougars will need to lean on their defense even more for the remainder of this season if their first two games are an accurate indicator.
Beechcroft opened with an 18-10 win over Dublin Jerome on Aug. 31 after having a first-week bye and lost to St. Charles 20-18 on Sept. 7. According to coach Bruce Ward, the Cougars had a chance to beat St. Charles despite struggling for consistency on offense.
Beechcroft defeated Centennial 55-15 in its City League-North Division opener on Sept. 14 and is 2-1 overall. The Cougars play host to Whetstone in a league contest on Friday, Sept. 21. Whetstone dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the City-North with a 60-24 loss to Mifflin on Sept. 14.
Beechcroft defeated Whetstone 50-14 last season.
The Braves are led by junior quarterback Ramroth Finnegan, who had more than 1,000 yards passing through three games. In an 84-26 win over Africentric on Aug. 31, Whetstone had 10 players score a touchdown and Finnegan threw for 423 yards and five touchdowns.
"We've got to do loads better on offense," Ward said. "The good thing is that we were down 17-6 in the third quarter (against St. Charles) and I didn't see any type of panic. We've been able to keep our composure. We had opportunities still with as bad as we played. Our morale was OK, which is good because we've been down before, and that's when you get some complaining."
Quarterback Maurice Hale had 464 yards passing and 154 yards rushing through two games to lead Beechcroft. Defensive lineman Antonio Davis and defensive back Landers Cox have been among the early standouts on defense, according to Ward.
Northland girls tennis team begins season
The Northland girls tennis team was 0-3 overall and in the City-North before playing Mifflin on Sept. 17.
The Vikings, who also played Linden-McKinley on Sept. 19, will compete in the City League Coaches Tournament from Monday, Sept. 24, through Sept. 27.
Junior Brooklynn Peterson is playing first singles, with sophomore twin sisters Ariel Skipper and Armani Skipper also seeing action in singles.
Juniors Aliyah Colvin, Janelle Raglin and Jocelyn Shaw are among those playing doubles.
"We're just looking to get better," ninth-year coach Allen Jarrett said. "They have great attitudes."