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 Brookhaven 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," Iacobucci said. "I told him this is his team and I'm just kind of holding down the fort until he gets back."