Two Rhode Islanders to compete for USA in Maccabiah Games

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Rhode Islanders Samantha Levin-Kent and Daniel Freeman are thrilled that they’ll be among those representing the United States in the Maccabiah Games, the Jewish equivalent of the Olympics, in Israel next July.       

Levin-Kent, of North Smithfield, is a basketball player, while Freeman, of West Warwick, competes in javelin. Since both are pursuing their educations out of state, these interviews were conducted on Skype. 

Samantha “Sammy” Levin-Kent

Levin-Kent, 18, is the youngest player on the Division II basketball team at Post University, in Waterbury, Connecticut. Levin-Kent attended both North Smithfield High School and St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, where she excelled in basketball and was ranked No. 1 in The Providence Journal’s leaderboard of Rhode Island female high school basketball players in 2016.

Levin-Kent attended St. Andrew’s in her junior year because of its athletic program, and because of the importance of junior year in the college recruiting process. She was named Southeast New England basketball player of the year while at St. Andrew’s, then went on to graduate from North Smithfield High as the No. 1 scorer in girls’ basketball in the school’s history. She chose to attend Post with the Maccabiah Games and international professional sports in mind.    

“I want to play in Israel professionally, and the coach here [at Post University] has a lot of connections,” said Levin-Kent, who added that her coach, Taj McWilliams, is on the selection committee for the Maccabiah Games. Levin-Kent tried out for the Maccabi USA team in New York, and made the cut.

Levin-Kent says her family has been an invaluable source of support and influence. She is very close to her mother, Bethany, who spent some time living in Israel, and her uncle Jeffrey Kent, who played basketball for international champions Maccabi Tel Aviv and participated in the games in the past. Her grandparents and great-grandparents have also been big fans and supporters.

“My mom’s a single parent, and she brought me to every [high school] game. My grandparents never missed a game. They’re like my world,” says Levin-Kent.

In addition to her basketball pursuits, Levin-Kent also pursues sculpting, drawing, and creative writing. She also signed a modeling contract last summer, which she says has been “awesome.” As a size 10-12, she models plus-size clothing, adding that criticism of her weight served as a motivation for success.

“My freshman and sophomore years of high school, I was 60 pounds overweight. My first-ever travel coach told me I would never play in college,” says Levin-Kent. “From then on, I was so determined, and now I’m here.”

Levin-Kent says basketball and modeling have helped her amass a large social media following, and that her confidence has served as inspiration for some of her followers.

“I actually have people message me and tell me I inspire them, like my confidence and my body and stuff like that,” says Levin. “[I thought] ‘this is so cool.’ ”

Her social media following has also helped her in gathering donations for the $8,000 required of participants, of which Levin-Kent had raised $2,900 by press time. Donations can be made to her campaign at http://support.maccabiusa.com/goto/sammyteamusa. Levin-Kent is also selling raffle tickets for travel and cash prizes to support her campaign; for tickets, e-mail bethanylevin@cox.net.

Daniel Freeman

Freeman, a  24-year-old student in an online master’s program at the University of Louisiana Monroe, started his career in javelin 13 years ago. He competed at the state level in all three years of middle school and says that by eighth grade he was throwing farther than some of the upper-grade high school students. The reason why he loves this sport:

“I think it’s just the fact that I like throwing things really far,” he says with a laugh.

Like Levin-Kent, Freeman is active on social media and has a large following. In 2013, after seeing a post by another athlete about participating in the games, Freeman emailed the Maccabiah’s director.  They kept in touch for a few years and then the Maccabiah team contacted Freeman’s coach at the University of North Carolina and recruited him. Freeman was overjoyed.

“This is the coolest thing! I want to represent the U.S., I’m Jewish!” Freeman says of his reaction to making the team.

Freeman is working toward a master’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in sports management. Now in his second year, the online aspect of the program has allowed him to simultaneously undertake an internship in development for the UNC 49ers football team.

Freeman, who views his parents, Ron and Lisa Freeman, as his main source of motivation, suffered an elbow injury during his sophomore year at UNC, which caused him to take an extra year to complete his bachelor’s degree in sociology. He says this was a turning point in his life.

“I decided I was going to be way more positive and balance my schedule and change my life. And from then on, I changed my life,” he says.

Now, Freeman says, one of his biggest strengths is time management. He has learned to balance his many pursuits, which, in addition to sports, include reading, cooking, and going to temple every week. 

 “Javelin’s been part of my life for such a long time and I’ve had to fight through so many injuries and missed opportunities, but I’ve never let any of those things keep me down,” says Freeman. “I finally have the opportunity to represent something bigger than myself. Bigger than my state, bigger than myself, bigger than my university. I get to represent my state and my religion, which I’m unapologetically proud of.”

He continued, “the opportunity to represent something bigger than myself doesn’t come around often. I’m not going to let it pass me by. I’m gonna go to the games.”

Freeman, who attended Temple Am David in Warwick, has raised $1,700 of the $8,000 required to participate in the games. Donations can be made to his campaign at http://bit.ly/2dVhSN9.  Freeman is also available to discuss donation matching as well as special donation giveaways at freeman.daniele@gmail.com or 401-632-5006.

ARIEL BROTHMAN is a freelance writer who lives in Wrentham, Massachusetts.