Sybil Smith, Ed.D is Black history personified and her name will forever go down as the best swimmer in Boston University history. She currently holds the seven unbeaten records in the school’s history and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1993. The former athlete is also the first African-American woman swimmer to be named a first-team Division 1 All-American and still Boston University’s only All-American swimmer.
Smith is the mother of US Open Champion Sloane Stephens and among the many unsung heroes in Black history. She broke barriers in a white-dominated sport at the time. According to goterriers.com, no individual has raised the bar with honors as Smith did throughout the first 19 years of swimming at Boston University.
The California native graduated in 1988 from the College of Arts and Sciences and her reputation as a stellar swimmer preceded her. At the school’s Fanueil Aquatic Center, her seven records are on full display.
She raised the bar so high, raking in four individual and three relay records in four years. She set standards many swimmers aspired to attain.
In her junior year, Smith became the first junior to win the University’s Mildred Barnes Award, given to the Outstanding Woman Athlete. Then again in her senior year, the stellar swimmer won the very same award again cementing her name in history as the first Terrier to win the award twice.
Smith worked exceptionally hard throughout her swimming career in Boston. She qualified for the NCAA three times and never lost a single race in dual-meet competition, attaining an astonishing 80 consecutive dual wins in her four-year swimming carrier.
“Some of my closest friends on the team had rationalized my accomplishments by saying, ‘You’re so lucky that you don’t have to work that hard,’ and, ‘[Swimming] is so natural for you.’
“Their words hurt, but I transferred to my pain into a personal mission and became the first All-America swimmer in BU history.”
The 54-year-old was named the Outstanding Swimmer at the Eastern Championships twice, the first in her junior and then the sophomore year. The climax of her swimming streak with the Boston Terriers was in her final NCAA Championship in 1988, finishing sixth with a school-record time of 56.02 seconds in the 100-yard backstroke.
For being a part of the top eight performers in that competition, Smith became the first African-American woman in US history to be named First Team Division I All-American and remains Boston University’s only All-American in women swimming.
However, Smith’s influence extends beyond her athleticism even though it will always be part of her legacy. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard graduate school and is a psychologist using her platform to empower Black and ethnic minority youths. The three-time Olympic trial qualifier was an assistant swimming coach at Harvard.
According to her daughter, her mother earned her Ph.D. while on the road with her as she also worked her way up in the tennis world.
Smith is the executive director of the Sloane Stephens Foundation where she leads the tennis, education, and mental wellness programs in the Compton Unified School district, one of the most historically underserved communities in the country.
The foundation has been able to help most of its students graduate high school and some have moved on to higher institutions bringing about generational changes to families in these communities. Smith is vested in these children and cares for each student as she does for her own, Stephens said.