Levitetz Family Foundation expands support of USA Wrestling's Athlete Appearance Program for the next five years

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Aug. 15, 2018, 4:21 p.m. (ET)
The Levitetz Family Foundation presents a check for $500,000 to USA Wrestling for the Elite Athlete Appearance Program. (left to right) Derek Sikora of USA Wrestling, Dave Groomes, Jeff Levitetz, Daniella Jordan, Alan Rutner

Thanks to a generous donation of $500,000 from The Levitetz Family Foundation, USA Wrestling's popular Elite Athlete Appearance Program will expand and improve for the next five years. Each year, $100,000 will be provided for USA Wrestling to send top athletes and coaches to make appearances in local communities in support of wrestling.
The program will be renamed the Al Cohen – Elite Athlete Appearance Program. Al Cohen was a coach, teacher, and principal in the Deerfield, Ill. community where Jeff Levitetz grew up. Through wrestling, Al taught many young athletes valuable life values through the sport.

The Elite Athlete Appearance Program was developed to help make young athletes’ dreams come true. This grant provides elite athletes an opportunity to meet and inspire kids, coaches, and fans all over the country.

“I am very excited about what we are doing. Watching the NCAAs a few years ago, it struck me just how exciting it was and how condensed our sport really is, from the children’s programs, to the Cadet programs to high school programs and culminating in the college programs. When you think about it, over 95% of high school wrestlers end their career there and don’t wrestle in college,” said Jeff Levitetz.

This program is designed to impact young wrestlers as they go through the day-to-day involvement in the sport.

“The experience for all wrestlers in high school and below is such a big experience. I remember my high school experience like it was yesterday, which was 40 years ago, and the effects it had on me. I go back to my high school and look at those young kids. For them, this is their moment, with their match every week. They learn so much from that experience. It has done a lot for me personally, and I feel the grassroots program has the ability to connect to that high school wrestler and younger, which is our biggest audience,” he said.

Levitetz notes the life skills that wrestling can teach young people, and sees the Al Cohen – Elite Athlete Appearance Program as a way to enhance that experience.

“If you can teach them some important life skills through good coaching, it is not only on the mat. It is everything from shaking hands, to having friends out there sitting home watching TV while you have to go to practice and have to study. Those are life skills you can take with you the rest of your life. You don’t know it until years later. I don’t know anybody who wrestled in high school who didn’t have a story about wrestling in high school. We have a huge audience that can benefit from both on-the-mat teaching and off-the-mat teaching,” he said.

The donation will greatly enhance USA Wrestling's existing Elite Athlete Appearance Program, which has already placed 185 athlete appearances, including more than 60 of the appearances by an Olympic or World Medalist. The appearances have taken place in 42 different states with at least 20,000 athletes attending the clinics or tournament appearances. USA Wrestling will be able to set up more appearances with an increased number of athletes in additional communities because of this generous grant.

The expansion of the program is expected to make a major impact on the growth and development of wrestling on the grassroots levels, while providing a link between the current stars of our sport and the future of wrestling.

“When elite athletes, college athletes and college coaches come into these high schools, these kids are mesmerized by it. This is something special. We have done it at my high school for seven years and it just keeps getting better and better. This is a benchmark of what we want to do with these clinics. High school wrestling was a huge part of my life now, as I look back on it. It has had a lot to do with my ability to push through a lot of things. Any tough situations I have gone through, I have been able to embrace it. We are excited to get to those high school wrestlers who may never wrestle again after that and make a difference. This is the audience we need to speak to,” said Levitetz.

The success of this program, and its expansion into the future, will continue to make a difference in those who participate in the clinics and appearances.

“Jeff Levitetz is one of the sport’s real givers. Jeff is clearly committed to insuring that America’s youth are exposed to man’s oldest and greatest sport. The Levitetz Family Foundation has changed the lives of thousands of young wrestlers across the country. We are truly humbled by Jeff’s belief in this USA Wrestling program and look forward to its lasting impact,” said Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director.

The Levitetz Family Foundation has supported other important USA Wrestling projects in the past, including a program which provided needy children an opportunity to attend summer wrestling camp, as well as a project which promoted the heritage of Olympic wrestling in the United States.

Levitetz has long been a leader within USA Wrestling. Jeff was named USA Wrestling's Man of the Year in 2004 as well as serving as Team Leader for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team in Athens, Greece. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as an Outstanding American in 2002 and is also a member of the Illinois Chapter of the Wrestling Hall of Fame. He served as Co-Chairperson of the successful "Wrestling for the Next Millennium" capital campaign, which benefited USA Wrestling, the National Wrestling Coaches Association and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. He was also an active leader of the Gator Wrestling Club for many years. Jeff is the founder of Purity Wholesale Grocers, which began over three decades ago and is a leading nationwide distributer to the food and drug industry.

Jeff started his wrestling career in Deerfield, Ill. where he wrestled for 1968 Olympian Steve Combs. He continued his career at the University of Alabama, where he wrestled for 2x NCAA Div. I Champion Pat Milkovich.

"I had the good fortune to be coached by Steve Combs, who was on the 1968 Olympic team and later went on to be a founder of the U.S. Wrestling Federation. He taught me not to quit. He taught me that hard work and perseverance could pay off and in my life it has," said Levitetz.