Syracuse University Magazine

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Max Levitt ’11

Gearing Up to Play Ball

On a morning in late January, Max Levitt led a group from Southwest Baltimore Charter School (SBCS) through the halls of his nonprofit organization’s massive warehouse of used sporting goods in search of aluminum baseball bats. Say what you will about America’s favorite pastime, but there’s no denying it can be cost prohibitive. At SBCS, the high price of cleats, catcher’s mitts, and gloves had kept baseball and softball out of PE classes and off the list of extracurricular activities. On this day, Levitt was offering to supply all of the necessary equipment for the low, low cost of absolutely free.  “I think they took a little bit of everything,” Levitt says. 

Since earning a bachelor’s degree in sport management from Falk College in 2011, Levitt has helped many youth sports programs feeling the same financial pinch. In the last year, his Maryland-based nonprofit, Leveling the Playing Field, has given nearly $1.85 million in sporting equipment a second life in the hands of the next generation of young athletes. Those are the kinds of numbers that get attention. Levitt has been featured in both the pages of The Washington Post and on CBS This Morning, all while juggling two interns, three full-time staffers, and 250 volunteers a year. “The last couple of years it’s taken on a life of its own,” he says.

Levitt had originally conceived Leveling the Playing Field as a loose partnership between the nonprofit and collegiate sports. As a former equipment manager for the Syracuse University football team, he knew firsthand how much equipment could be lost to a landfill from season to season, but it would take time to convince universities that his fledgling endeavor was worth their trust. It would also require weaving through NCAA regulations that contain very narrow parameters for disposing of the dearly departed gear of seasons past. “I think nowadays it would be a little bit easier because we have the track record,” Levitt says.

Instead, he simplified his approach, purchasing 12 plastic bins from Target and placing them in churches or community rec centers outside of Washington, D.C. Word started to travel, eventually reaching the folks at D.C. United. The professional soccer club wanted to partner with Leveling the Playing Field on a collection drive, a crucial bit of momentum that has since kept the nonprofit moving full speed ahead. “After a couple of years we’ve built pretty strong brand awareness,” says Levitt, who has also partnered with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals.  

They also have an office, where every day, people drop off equipment that is sorted, processed, and distributed to programs and kids that might otherwise be facing a significant roadblock into the world of sports. It’s this more than anything that motivates Levitt, who recognizes that he has had unfettered access to a set of invaluable life lessons and experiences simply because his family could afford the cost of a baseball mitt. “Some of my greatest memories growing up are basketball camp, winning the camp championship, or playing Little League with my buddies,” Levitt says. 

It would seem that he’s not alone there. Leveling the Playing Field is preparing to open a second office in Baltimore and franchise inquiries are pouring in from locations across the country. Still, what Levitt continues to enjoy most are the one-on-one interactions with the people that he and his team are helping. “It’s very satisfying” he says. “It kind of keeps us going.” —Frank Ready