STiKS Academy building on success
Former baseball standout's sports facility is growing

By Ryan Billingham - Freeman Staff

November 29, 2014

At far right, Sean Smith speaks as some of his STiKS Academy players make commitments to colleges. Pictured, from left: Nate Grzybowski of New Berlin, committed to play at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; Logan Wonn of Oconomowoc, committed to play at Jacksonville University; Nate Anderson of Mukwonago, committed to play at Heartland Community College; and Connor Moroder of Pewaukee, committed to play at the University of North Dakota. 
Submitted photo 

OCONOMOWOC - Sean Smith was a standout baseball player drafted out of Oconomowoc High School in 1992 by the Atlanta Braves organization. He opened STiKS Academy in 2012. He has expanded its services since that time and is continuing to grow. The business is the culmination of a life dedicated to sports and to helping make dreams come true for local athletes. He spoke recently with The Freeman about STiKS.

FREEMAN: What is STiKS Academy? 

 STiKS Academy is an indoor sports facility in Oconomowoc. We rent a lot of space out to lacrosse programs, soccer clubs, football teams, baseball and softball teams. We do a lot of baseball training with lots of classes for hitting, pitching, catching, throwing and fielding. We also offer a lot of individual lessons for those looking for more individual attention and most of those are taught by former and current professional baseball players.

Our teaching staff includes Doug Henry, a former MLB pitcher and current Kansas City Royals bullpen coach; Paul Wagner, a former MLB pitcher; Joel Effertz, a current Miami Marlins minor league pitcher; Adam Ricks, a current Chicago White Sox bullpen catcher; Pete Kowalski, a former assistant coach at Carroll College and myself ó a former minor league player.

We also run several clinics/ camps throughout the year for baseball training. We also have nine of our own STiKS Travel Teams that compete at high-level tournaments throughout the Midwest and have kids playing on our teams from all over the state of Wisconsin.

We also run some six-onsix slow-pitch softball leagues as well. So, to sum it up we rent space to teams, run camps, clinics, and classes throughout year and do a lot of individual instruction and have nine of our own travel teams.

FREEMAN: What is the academyís philosophy? 

 Our philosophy for the facility and training programs is to provide Wisconsin kids the opportunity to train 12 months a year with highly qualified instructors. For our travel teams we want to play the very best competition and showcase our older players off and get them in front of as many college coaches as possible. Kids from Wisconsin have just as much talent as kids from the South. We are just providing them an opportunity to train all year long and play against some of the top competition in the country.

FREEMAN: What inspired you to create this business model and take the leap to becoming a smallbusiness owner?

SMITH: Playing minor league baseball and growing up in Wisconsin, I really didnít have anywhere to train during the winter months and always wanted to get back into baseball where my true passion has always been. I wanted to give area kids every opportunity to experience all of the things that I was able to as a player and hopefully they are able to reach their full potential as players. There really isnít anything like this in the area.

FREEMAN: Why did you choose your current location and how is it working out?

SMITH: When I was playing minor league baseball I used to work on the ski hill during the winter and always saw the space where the tennis courts and racquetball courts were and thought it would be an awesome space to do some baseball training. Itís difficult to find 35,000 square feet with 40-foot tall ceilings. We are able to get a lot of work in all year long.

The building is almost perfect ó minus a couple pillars ó for what we need. We are able to get creative and we keep making improvements throughout the facility. The new building owners have been absolutely fantastic to work with and have made several improvements to the building to make it a much better experience.

FREEMAN: Several academy players recently committed to colleges. How does that make you feel?

SMITH: Every time one of my players commits I get pretty emotional as I see those guys getting the opportunity to live out their dreams and play baseball at a very high level. I get very attached to all of these players as many of them are riding to tournaments with me, work here at the facility or are utilizing the facility seven days a week or all of the above. I have the greatest job in the world and I wake up every morning and canít wait to get here. I get to share my life lessons with these kids and hopefully make a difference in their lives. We have had players commit to schools like University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Indian Hills Community College, Northern State University, Jacksonville University, Heartland Community College, UW-Whitewater, University of North Dakota, University of Florida, University of Oklahoma, and many more to come very soon. Guess Iíll be touring the country to watch these guys play.

FREEMAN: It seems you keep expanding. Where do you see STiKS in the future?

SMITH: Yes, we keep expanding and we arenít done yet. We are adding six new hitting tunnels right now and we have plans for nine more in 2015. We want to make sure we are able to service all of our lessons, classes and our team practices we have here.

FREEMAN: Who is your favorite baseball player of all time? And why?

SMITH: My favorite player of all time was Cal Ripken Jr. The way that he played with class and you always knew he was going to play every single day was impressive. And, the loyalty that he showed to the Baltimore Orioles is nowadays unheard of.