Toward the end of Hylton girls' basketball practice Tuesday afternoon, senior guard Jasmine Byrd exchanged a knowing, goofy glance with one of the football players lingering nearby, flashing a mischievous smile that vanished just as quickly when it was time to get back to business.
It was the kind of sly move the offspring of an assistant principal (mom Brenda) has probably had plenty of opportunity to perfect while growing up patrolling the halls of the local high school -- wait until backs are turned before cutting loose with the tomfoolery. It was a veteran move Tuesday, no doubt.
"I've known Jasmine way before she started high school, just because of the fact she came to a lot of activities with her parents and was always at games and running around," said Hylton volleyball coach Karen Mays, who coached Byrd two years on the junior varsity and two years on the varsity. "It just seems like she's been at Hylton forever."
There is another reason for Byrd's staying power -- she is one of the most accomplished athletes in Prince William County in recent memory. Three-sport participants are rare enough; three-sport standouts are almost unheard of as more and more stellar athletes specialize in one sport.
Byrd, a Street & Smith's Magazine preseason honorable mention all-American in basketball, at some point in her high school career has been an all-district performer in volleyball, soccer and basketball, the latter of which she has chosen to play at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
"That's the way she's always been," said Hylton senior forward Keisha Hardley, a longtime friend. "She's real passionate about all three sports and that's what she loves to do. She doesn't really favor one over the other. She's focused on each sport."
"She's the type of person who just loves being a part of that team philosophy -- playing three sports you have different people, different styles, different personalities," Hylton girls' basketball coach Melvin Smith said.
Why choose one when you can excel at all three?
"I've always played soccer and basketball and volleyball," said Byrd, who scored 18 points against Brooke Point in her second varsity basketball game her freshman year. "It's just natural to play three sports. I've always played, so I wouldn't want to give one of them up."
Nor would the Bulldog teams that have come to rely on her. She played on a Hylton soccer team that reached the Virginia AAA state tournament two years ago after knocking out Woodbridge in a 1-0 win on a Byrd goal in the 55th minute; on a volleyball team that reached the state semifinals last season; and on a basketball team that last year won a school-record 20 games and snagged the first district title in the 11-year history of the program.
This winter might mark her stiffest challenge yet. Hylton must replace three starters, including Jennifer Rhodan, the Bulldog who teamed with Byrd last season to score almost half the team's points. The 5-foot-6 Byrd averaged 15.6 points and 3.0 steals and sank 44 three-pointers.
"Jasmine has to lead us," Smith said. "There's no doubt in my mind that she's the best guard in the area. With her qualities she's going to have to go all out on defense a lot more than she does offensively. I think she's ready, and I also don't think she has a choice. You're the best out there. When you're the best at a sport, you're supposed to lead others."
"She truly is an exception," Mays said. "Most of it is just her love of competition and being part of a team. That's just who she is. She's really been part of some great traditions at Hylton that are going to carry on for a long time. Those kids aren't easy to replace."