About Smith Stearns


What students and parents have to say.

Austin Powell
Hometown: Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Class of 2011
Scholarship to North Carolina State University

“I chose to come to Smith Stearns because of the family environment it offered and the high quality coaches I would get to work with. Looking back on the last three years my expectations were exceeded in terms of the relationships I would build with the coaches and other players. My game has improved tremendously under the guidance of the Smith Stearns coaches; I owe them a lot of credit for helping me achieve my goal of going to an exceptional college tennis program. The close knit nature of Smith Stearns was the perfect situation for me to develop, and I can’t imagine my last three years any way else.

I have a lot of memories here at Smith Stearns, but one always seems to stand out to me among all the others. It didn’t matter if it was 20 degrees outside or 3 feet of visibility BJ and I grinded Monday and Wednesday mornings at 6 a.m. for a whole semester. It’s one thing to have a crazy student wanting to go crosscourt that early, but it’s a whole different story to have a coach who is willing to be out there with you. I’ll always reflect on that experience and I really appreciate all the time and effort BJ gave me during my time here. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach and a better friend to me.”


Kaitlin Ray
Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas
Class of 2011
Full Scholarship to UCLA

“I chose to come to Smith Stearns because of the coaching staff and the great competition available. Every coach at Smith Stearns is so positive, and I can tell that they really care about me and my success on the tennis court. While we work extremely hard here and the coaches take the tennis very seriously, they still make it fun for us. Also, I love the group of kids we have at Smith Stearns. Everyone encourages each other and pushes one another to get better. That is one of the best things about Smith Stearns; the coaches and kids all get along great which makes it more like a family.”


Molly O’Koniewski
Hometown: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Class of 2011
Full Scholarship to UVA

“I chose to come to Smith Stearns because I was impressed with how quickly the coaches got to know me and my game. I loved the size of the academy and how hard all the kids who train here work. I also loved how I could have an individualized program, and I was lucky enough to live here with my family in beautiful Hilton Head!”


Elkie van den Beemt
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
Class of 2011
College Commitment: St. Lawrence University

“I wanted to pursue tennis more than I could in Washington, especially since I started so late, and Smith Stearns seemed like the perfect place for that with all the individual attention each player gets. Since coming here, thanks to the coaches, I feel like I can’t even keep up with the improvements I’m making (that’s a good thing, though!)

My private lessons with Billy are my favorite part of the day because I can really focus on a part of my game I might be having trouble with. I also like being on a court with different players and coaches every day so there is always variety in who I play and what I can learn at camp.”


Eileen Gilchrist
Mother of Nadja Gilchrist, Senior at UGA

“My daughter Nadja attended Smith Stearns for four years. I would gladly recommend it to anyone in the world – especially to a parent whose child is studying away from home.”

“The Academy and housing are set up for good security. With the Smith Stearns house parents, she gets home-cooked meals and a family atmosphere. And we have their cell phone numbers so we’re able to reach them 24/7.”

“The thing about the coaches there, and Billy especially, is that he’s not just a coach to her. He cares about her training. He’s a caring person. She’s well-prepared when she goes to tournaments.”


Gail O’Koniewski,
Mother of Molly, age 18 and Jack, age 15

“Our kids had trained in Florida fall semester the year before coming to Smith Stearns. It was not quite as personalized there, and they had to do online schooling. But at Smith Stearns, our kids enjoy being in the classroom and being able to train four to five hours a day.”

“We like that they train on clay, not hard courts. That’s better for their bodies. An added benefit is, we like the kids they’re training with, too. It’s a wonderful group of kids to be around.”

“Fortunately, we were able to move to Hilton Head Island, so our family is always together. Both children are extremely happy and smile all day long.”


Barb Stein,
Mother of Emily, Sophomore at West Point

“It was difficult for us to follow up with her tennis here in Pennsylvania, where we live. It’s hard getting court time and it’s too cold to play much of the year. We had vacationed at Sea Pines many times, and Emily had played at the Academy when we were there. Obviously, it was a big step for her to go there full-time, but we had a lot of confidence in the program. She tried it and it’s worked out. She loves it. It’s home away from home.”

“Emily is now a much more mature, more confident player, even beyond her years. Her maturity and confidence level have gone up exponentially. She’s very grown-up on and off the court. That’s a tribute to Smith Stearns. They’ve given her a lot of confidence, a lot of love, a lot of caring. They treat her like one of their own. She feels like part of the family.”