Smoky Mountain Youth Leadership (SMYL)


The Smoky Mountain Youth Leadership (SMYL) program is designed to identify a diverse group of high school students who demonstrate leadership potential and to develop, in an interactive environment, the framework for constructive leadership, committed involvement, and responsible participation in the future of Sevier County.


SMYL believes that youth are gifted and are capable of making a positive difference in the community.


  • To identify, train and nurture potential leaders during their high school years;
  • To further enhance and develop communication, decision-making skills and varying approaches to leadership;
  • To encourage initiative and creativity;
  • To gain a greater understanding of contemporary issues through interaction and problem solving with peers, adult leaders and decision makers from all segments of the community;
  • To promote leadership in our  high schools by through opportunities for student interaction among schools and to develop a level of mutual trust and respect for one another;
  • To have an increased awareness of our community needs, opportunities, problems and resources; and
  • To become responsible, ethical leaders committed to active community involvement.


  • Be a sophomore or junior in a Sevier County high school (public, private or home school).
  • Be involved in extra-curricular school or community activities.
  • Make a commitment to full participation in the Smoky Mountain Youth Leadership (SMYL) program.
  • Have a desire to develop and utilize leadership skills.
  • Have a good academic standing (minimum 2.5 GPA) and good disciplinary record.


In 2004, a Leadership Tomorrow Team had the idea that they would like for high school students to experience the types of programs they did in their program. They pursued the idea by contacting leadership programs in other counties in Tennessee and gathering information about them.  The team presented their recommendation and a fellow classmate shared this opportunity with their employer,  Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies, who is the signature sponsor still today. In 2005, the program began and continues to be successful today.


The Leadership Tomorrow Team that developed the concept is Simon Bradbury, Devin Koester, Samantha McGill, Jayson Nave, and Elizabeth Robinson. The Sevier County Schools are represented by Tony Stinnett, Supervisor of High Schools. Sharon Agnew, a member of the Charities Committee, represents Ripleys Entertainment and participates in the activities and events of the SMYL Program. Ellen Wilhoit, Executive Director of Leadership Sevier,  represents the Leadership Sevier Board and will serve as the Program Director for SMYL. The Leadership Sevier Board works with Leadership Tomorrow and SMYL and has ultimate responsibility for SMYL.  A selections committee reviews the applications each year and selects the participants based on the following criteria. Freshman not selected are highly encouraged to apply in the following year.

  • Display evidence of mature judgment and potential/exceptional leadership qualities;
  • Have obvious potential for growing personally and affecting change in the community; and
  • Willing to commit the time and energy necessary to complete the program.


A total of 8 sessions, plus introductions night, and graduation are held for SMYL. Participants are expected to attend all sessions.  Students will not be allowed to leave during a session without the written permission of your high school counselor.


Tuition for SMYL Program is $150.00 due upon acceptance into the program. Anyone facing a challenge to pay the tuition should contact the Leadership Sevier office, and speak to Ellen Wilhoit, at 865.908.3801.  As the Signature Sponsor, Ripley’s of Gatlinburg is underwriting the basic financial needs of this program. Sevier County Schools provide the transportation and some essential materials for this program, including a staff member on program days.


An Introduction Night will occur prior to the first program day as a way to introduce the SMYL participant to the community and parents/guardians. Program days will typically be on the third Thursday of the month from September to April. Exceptions may occur in December and possibly the month of spring break. These dates will be noted in the participants’ manual.Graduation will be in late April, or early May.

Each session will be approximately 6-7 hours with the days beginning around 8:00 a.m. and ending around 2:30 p.m. The Directors of Sevier County Schools and King’s Academy have approved participation in SMYL and the students will be counted “present” for school attendance records.


Students must take the initiative to apply for participation in the SMYL Program. High school counselors will distribute the applications to rising Sophomores and Juniors who are actively involved in leadership and demonstrate leadership qualities. Students may contact the Leadership Sevier office for an Application. Selections will be made in April. Students not accepted as sophomores are highly encouraged to reapply the next year.