Two years ago, Max Levitt founded Leveling the Playing Field to find a new home for old sports equipment. The Silver Spring-based nonprofit gives underserved children in the D.C. area the opportunity to participate in youth sports by providing donated used/excess sporting equipment. Now, as a result of partnerships with universities, professional sports franchises and other organizations in the region, the nonprofit has donated almost 40,000 pieces of sporting equipment, which has benefited more than 50,000 kids in the D.C.-Baltimore area. Levitt, a 25-year-old D.C. resident and a graduate of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, talked to WJW about how the nonprofit works, ways he’d like to expand it and his favorite sports teams.
What prompted the idea to create Leveling the Playing Field?
The idea started formulating in my mind midway through college. I was an equipment manager for the Syracuse University football program. One of the things I always noticed from day one was how much unnecessary equipment we got in the program, from our various manufacturing partners like Nike. I was shocked at how much we threw away at the end of the year. Coming home during summers, I was surprised how difficult and expensive it was for an underserved family in Silver Spring or Gaithersburg to play these sports. Once I found out one of the main barriers was the price of sporting equipment, I had my idea. I did a little bit of research and I was shocked there wasn’t something like this in existence, based on how many donation programs there are in Montgomery County.
You also encountered the idea during a family trip to Botswana.
That was well before I even thought of the nonprofit. My family travels to a lot of third-world countries. I’m always impacted by how little a lot of these kids have, compared to what I had growing up. Being a sports fan and sports fanatic, and with youth sports being such a part of my life, I noticed the lack of sports. There weren’t basketball courts and soccer fields. If they were, it was with a ball of trash on pavement or a dirt field. I emailed and called some of my friends’ parents to see what they could put together for me to take over to Africa. We filled up a couple duffle bags of soccer equipment and found a school in Botswana and surprised them with it for their kids.
How does the nonprofit operate?
We collect sports equipment from private schools, youth sports leagues, colleges and manufacturing companies. We get hundreds of individual families who come to our warehouse every year just emptying out their garage. We distribute it to youth programs, after school programs, neighborhood leagues, a lot of public charter schools in the District that don’t have the budget. They’ll submit the application online. We’ll learn more about the organization, do a phone call and site visit. We either deliver the equipment to them or have them come to our warehouse and fill up their car with whatever they want.
In what ways do you want to expand Leveling the Playing Field?
I want to keep on expanding the organization. I think the youth sports issue is one that is not unique to the D.C. area. It’s happening everywhere. We organically spread a ton into Baltimore City, because there’s a need there and it spread like wildfire. This could work in Philadelphia, New York City, Charlotte, N.C. Wherever you have a lot of wealthy people and a lot of poor people, you’re going to see a huge discrepancy in youth sports participation. But you’ll also see a huge opportunity to funnel a supply toward the demand. We still have a lot to perfect in the D.C. area, but we’ve shown a business staying power and that we can make an impact. My short-term goal is to perfect a model in the D.C.-Baltimore area. And from there, start installing the same program in other cities across the country.
What are your favorite sports teams?
I’m a huge Redskins fan, which is hard right now but it’s part of living in this area. I stay loyal because I hope one day we’ll be able to look back in time at this and laugh. It’ll mean that much more when we finally win. I’m a D.C. sports nut in general. The only team I don’t root for is the Nationals, because I was born and raised an Orioles fan. Any D.C. sports team I get pretty excited about.