“It’s really hard to win there because it draws all the best kids in the country,” said Grandmaster Roger Haines, the former Cincinnati area police officer who started SWAT – which stands for Special Winning Attitude Team – 32 years ago with Steve Allen.
Since then, SWAT Karate has become a celebrated program for the City of Dayton Department of Recreation and Youth Services.
A few evenings ago, Haines had the oversized trophies Jackson and Byrd won on display during the team’s practice session. Afterward the triumphant pair would take their golden awards back home.
“All her trophies, ribbons and medals are in our living room, but really our house isn’t big enough for all of it,” Bernadette Byrd, Sidnei’s mom, said with a laugh as she watched SWAT practice from a folding chair along the wall.
Part of the trophy collection of Sidnei Byrd’s karate exploits on display in her home. CONTRIBUTED
“My dad is like, ‘Bernadette , where else you gonna put her trophies? She’s still got 8th , 9th, 10th , 11th and 12th grade to go. How’s it all gonna fit?’
“And I’m like, ‘I truly don’t know, Dad. I just don’t know.’”
Anita Oliver, Vincent’s mom, said the same thing:
“We have trophies everywhere. They’re downstairs, in the closet, in the garage. We’ve actually run out of space for them.”
Around her friends, Sidnei is low key about her involvement in karate and especially the awards she’s won from tournaments in places like California, Minnesota, Chicago and Washington D.C.
“Some of my close friends, they knew I did karate, but they just thought it was for self-defense,” she said. They didn’t know I got to travel and could win trophies. When they’ve come in our living room, they’ve been pretty amazed.”
Then again, if you really know Sidnei – and Vincent, too – you’re amazed before you even get to their karate credentials.
Vincent is a young man of many talents. He’s a good soccer player and he can sing, something you might expect from the grandson of Wallace Herring, Anita’s dad, who she said sang with the Dayton Opera and on occasion played piano for Nancy Wilson, the Grammy Award winning blues, jazz and R& B singer and actress who once attended Central State.
Most of all though Vincent is known as a dancer, regularly performing for the Stivers High Dance Ensemble and this summer taking part in a study intensive put on by the nationally-acclaimed Deep Rooted Dance Theater of Chicago.
Vincent Jackson, a member of the Stivers High Dance Ensemble, is training with the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Team this simmer. He recently performed at the Levitt Pavilion in downtown Dayton. (CONTRIBUTED)
A few weeks ago he performed at the Levitt Pavilion in downtown Dayton and his mother said he’s performed at weddings around the Miami Valley.
On top of all that, he works at the Kroger store on Wayne Avenue, because, as his mom said, ‘it feels good to him to be able to buy his own things and save some money and not have to ask us for everything.”
Sidnei is just as well-rounded.
She runs track – the 200 and 400 meter races and a relay – for her school and a local AAU team. She also plays basketball and volleyball at Ascension, as well playing the saxophone in the school band.
While she no longer sings in the school choir or dances with DCDC, she’s been selected to serve another year at Ascension as a student Peacemaker and part of the school’s conflict resolution program.
It’s especially geared to defusing bullying situations, something she once knew first hand.
Haines runs an anti-bullying program for youth at the Kroc Center in Dayton, and a self-defense program, as well. Select students also are encouraged to join the SWAT program
Sidnei and Vincent – who have been in the program for eight and nine years respectively – are two of the most talented performers in SWAT history.
“It’s been just great to watch them grow up right before my eyes,” Haines said. “They’re pretty special kids.”
All eyes on Sidnei
Sidnei said she first came to karate classes when she was five:
“My dad put me in self-defense because I was getting bullied in school. I was too nice and if someone hit me I never stood up for myself.”
So did the karate instruction help?
“Well, they backed off,” she said with smile. “I remember this one girl wanted to fight me once and that’s when I got in my karate stance.
“And she was like ‘What the heck? What’s she gonna do?’
“There were a lot of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from the other kids and that girl, she just kind of left the scene.”
Sidnei Byrd runs track – the 200 meters, 400 meters and 4 X 400 meters relay – for Ascension School in Kettering and also competes for an AAU team. CONTRIBUTED
At Ascension – where the other kids call her Charlee (her middle name) – she still has a reputation for being nice and kind-hearted. That, along with her Karate Kid rep, has helped get her chosen as a Peacemaker.
“If someone is getting bullied, I try to talk to them and the bully, too,” she said. “You ask the bully, ‘What are you getting out of this?’ Some people realize what they are doing is wrong and stop, but some still don’t get it and then you go to the counselor.”
Sidnei doesn’t look like a quiet enforcer and admitted to being a “girlie girl” who likes dresses, heels and make-up.
The other night at SWAT practice, her nails were done in a pink French manicure. Her hair recently had had a tinge of pink in it, as well. In each ear she wore three earrings.
She’s pretty humble, her mom said, but once she gets on stage she comes out of her shell:
“She loves theater, dance and especially karate. She likes being out in front and she has a way of demanding the audience’s attention.
“If you’ve ever seen her perform – especially with the weapons – she shuts down the room and has everybody watching.”
Vincent shines in spotlight
The Battle of Atlanta was the first national competition for the SWAT team since the COVID-19 pandemic hit 16 months ago.
Both Sidnei and Vincent – who are regular training partners – admitted they were a little nervous returning to the national stage.
And Vincent had an added concern. A couple of weeks before the competition, he wrenched his left knee doing an intricate move at dance practice.
“I felt the bottom half of my leg go one way and the top half go the other way,” he said. “I fell to the ground and when I was lying there I was like, ‘OK, what should I do?’
“My first instinct was to keep dancing. You know the old saying: ‘The show must go on!’
“I figured if this happened in a show I couldn’t just lie there wallowing in pain. My classmates helped me up and we made it part of the routine.”
The night before his karate competition in Atlanta, he said the knee was bothering him again.
Vincent Jackson poses with a Statue of Liberty axe kick. (CONTRIBUTED)
He rubbed it down with Tiger Balm and then said he drew on his mom’s influence: “She implemented Jesus and religion in me and the Scripture verse I used was: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
“I kept saying that over and over and I kid you not. After that it was like I felt no pain and I was focused.”
He needed to be because in two fights he had to go into overtime.
One of the wins came in dramatic fashion, he said:
“I was down with only a few seconds left. And that’s when I said to myself: ‘You done put in so much work. You didn’t come here to lose!’
“And when the referee said go, I hit (his opponent) with a spinning wheel kick. He fell and I looked at the scoreboard. I’d gotten two points and won!”
Like Sidnei, he shines in the spotlight – whether it’s with karate or dance.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to express myself – to draw on something inside me – and other people are able to see it and feel it, too,” he said.
That even happens with his mom.
“I watch him doing these dance moves all day around the house,” Anita laughed. “But then I see him put them together in competition and it surprises me. I see the way people are moved by it and it makes me very proud of him.”
After Stivers, Vincent said he’d like to advance his career at someplace like the University of the Arts in Philadelphia or the Alvin Ailey School in New York City.
“Whatever he does, I truly believe he’s going to excel,” Anita said. “He always does.”
One look around his trophy-laden home – just as it would at Sidnei’s place, too – tells you that.