Pay it Forward: Leveling the Playing Field

A young baseball enthusiast. (NewsChannel 8 photo)

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (NewsChannel 8) - Inside a Gaithersburg town center there is $1 million worth of Under Armour gear in an old dance studio. The gear isn’t staying there though, it is going to various youth sports programs in the D.C.-Baltimore region, for free.

Under Armour donated the goods, because it has introduced newer versions in retail stores. Now, Leveling the Playing Field is getting the gear to the programs that need it.

Max Levitt, the founder of Leveling the Playing Field, was inspired by various experiences working in sports, particularly while he was a student at Syracuse University.

“The synonymous thing I noticed from rec league, to college, to professional was a huge waste of sports equipment.” Levitt said. “A lot of these organizations just go through unbelievable amount of sports equipment: soccer balls, shin guards, footballs, just huge amounts of stuff.”

While Levitt was growing up in Bethesda, his parents made sure he knew how fortunate he was. His family regularly donated food, clothes and school supplies, but even he didn’t have a place for his old sports equipment.

“I always knew there was something that needed to happen with the supply of equipment the more and more I learned about the need in underserved communities I realized that the best option was a non-profit.”

In 2011 Levitt launched Leveling the Playing Field, with the hope of dusting off all the equipment tucked away in garages and warehouses and putting it back to work.

“We started placing donation bins around the community, private schools, churches, really whoever would listen,” he said. “In literally a year to a year and a half we went from begging people to let us place donation bins in their school, to Under Armour giving us a million dollars of equipment.”

Now, the dance studio turned warehouse is filled wall to wall with sneakers, skates, basketballs, lacrosse sticks and tennis rackets, just to name some of the items.

A group of students shuffles through with the Under Armour boxes, breaking down one stack inside the building and creating another outside, so the boxes can be loaded in the U-Haul truck for delivery.

Matt Roman is one of those students; he’s a sixth grader at North Bethesda Middle School. His mother, Jeanette Roman, stayed and helped out. They didn’t live anywhere nearby. She knows all about the cost of equipment and youth sports; Matt plays basketball and baseball.

“I just think it’s great, that everybody gets a chance to play, because it does cost a lot of money and this means that isn’t an advantage or disadvantage for everybody, everybody gets to work with the same playing field,” Roman said.

The organization has reached 30,000 kids in the D.C.-Baltimore region and collected 50,000 pieces of equipment valued at $1.5 million. By donating equipment, Leveling the Playing Field has saved programs in the area more than $200,000.

“That will allow them [programs] to lower registration fees, add more staff, both of those things get more kids involved in sports,” Levitt said.

The organization relies on volunteers like Matt and Jeanette to keep the organization functioning. Levitt is the only employee. Volunteers handle a variety of tasks from sorting donations to making receipts. But Levitt says all the effort is worth it.

“Just seeing the smiles, not just the smiles on the kid’s faces for receiving the equipment , the number of parents that came up to me profusely shaking my hand, giving me hugs, thanking me so much because they wanted so badly to give their kid their own sports equipment, that’s an opportunity every kid should have. “ he said.

Leveling the Playing Field is a non-profit that collect s and recycles sport equipment. You can find out more information on LPL on its website or Facebook page.

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