Favorite athlete: Naomi Osaka
Favorite memory competing in sports: Winning against North Penn my freshman year with my partner Jess and all of the upperclassmen running to hug us afterward.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When I tried to move a lanternfly off the tennis court during warmup, but instead, it flew towards my face.
Music on mobile device: Lizzo’s ‘Cuz I Love You’ album
Future plans: Attend college and make a difference in the world.
Words to live by: “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” –Maya Angelou
One goal before turning 30: Learn a new language
One thing people don’t know about me: I love the Harry Potter series.
By Ed Morrone
When a curious reporter called to inquire about her four years as a student-athlete at Abington High School, Zora Levette admitted she was surprised.
Not because her impact on the school community wasn’t worthy of being discussed at length, because it certainly is; rather, Levette is so used to considering her accountability to others that it may have felt strange to talk so much about her own individual accomplishments. Even then, it was clear that Levette’s day brightens when she can talk about what she can do to empower others around her.
It’s simply who she is.
Levette is a four-year varsity tennis player for Abington, where she serves as half of the program’s top doubles duo, along with fellow senior Jessica Reinach. The two have been playing together for four years and enjoy it so much that head coach James Howell is convinced they must be close to the top of Suburban One in third-set tiebreakers, like the deciding victory this season over North Penn that mirrored a match the two had won as freshmen together over the same opponent.
The mere mention of Reinach’s name unleashes a geyser of effusive praise from her longtime partner on the court.
“She’s my best friend,” Levette said. “Freshman year I went through a wide array of partners to see who I was going to play with, and ultimately we just clicked. I like playing doubles because of the communication it requires with your partner. When you’re on the court and you or your partner make a mistake, you can cheer each other up and work together as a unit rather than individually. The teamwork and being able to celebrate after every point, the constant talking to keep the communication going … one of our biggest strengths is restoring confidence in one another.
“Jess is just awesome. One of my favorite people ever. We’ve been together so long that we just work so well. We know what side of the court we’re going to before we start, we know who is going to serve and who will volley; some teams have to ask their partners, we already know what we’re going to call.”
They have their own match rituals, whether things are going good or bad. If they’re feeling themselves heading into a big point, the duo will recite the old ad slogan Easy, breezy, beautiful, CoverGirl; if one or both are playing poorly, they’ll gather together for three jumps in unison to shake out the bad energy in hopes of getting back on track.
It may be confusing to opposing coaches, players and spectators, but according to Levette, it’s just who they are while around one another.
“Jess and I are somewhat opposites,” Levette said. “She’s quieter than I am, but our opposites attract and it makes us work well together on the court. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, what shots we can rely on and what ones we’ll need help with. We’ve been working together so long that we just know what to expect from each other.”
Levette has been playing competitive tennis since she was 8 or 9, and got serious about it at 12. One of the big draws to the sport for her is that there is always something new to learn, perfect for someone with a mature mindset and an insatiable appetite for knowledge.
Howell first encountered Levette when he was hired by the school as its girls tennis coach, when Levette was a sophomore. It wasn’t long before Howell was introducing new aggressive strategies to Levette and the rest of the doubles players, seeking to arm the girls with more of an ability to play with a purpose, as opposed to just hitting the ball and waiting for somebody to make a mistake.
Over the last three seasons, Levette has added more weapons to her game and plays a more aggressive style of tennis. It’s produced results, with the senior posting a 5-2 record this season in her doubles matches, with Howell stating that Levette has played to expectations.
“She has the skill set, aggressive demeanor and willingness to take risks and go after the ball,” Howell said. “Zora is able to keep cool in pressure situations and plays better in those scenarios.”
Howell can talk tennis all day and was happy to talk X’s and O’s with an inquisitive reporter. However, where Levette truly shines is what she does for her team and school away from the court.
“She helps the program immensely by leading her teammates with an immutable positive attitude and motivation,” he said. “Zora is quick to take on responsibility and is an excellent example for our underclassmen.”
When pressed for a specific example, Howell was ready. During tryouts, he and his fellow coaches require the players to run a mile, which serves no critical purpose beyond identifying who has been practicing conditioning in the offseason and who is just picking up a racket for the first time. When Levette finished her mile, she didn’t stop to rest, stretch or get a drink of water.
She kept running.
“While the girls who had finished proceeded to cheer the rest of the runners on, Zora continued,” Howell said. “She had already passed some girls that were still running, and she ran an extra lap so she could run with and motivate the freshmen and slower runners. It’s the perfect representation as to why we chose Zora as a captain, because we knew she was willing to do extra work to motivate her team. I was proud of that decision, mostly because she took that step on her own without being asked.”
When this anecdote was relayed to Levette, she didn’t seek to pat herself on the back for validation. It was just what her instincts told her to do when she saw some of her slower teammates struggling, the mark of a truly natural leader.
“Being a captain isn’t as easy as people think because you have to be a buffer between the coaches and other girls,” she said. “When everyone is complaining about running a mile, it’s my job to explain why it’s not so bad. My focus is on uplifting others. Sure, we can all try to thrive on our own, but if we’re not winning as a team, then we aren’t winning at all. It’s my responsibility as a leader to make sure everyone is having fun while motivating each other to win while working together, instead of for ourselves.”
Being a leader of a team and in a community is a natural environment for Levette. In addition to being a captain on the tennis team, she is also Abington’s student council president. Levette has been involved with student government since she was in elementary school (where she was student council president as well), and her responsibilities have been wide-ranging. As a sophomore vice president, she was involved in working on a “Rise Up, Abington” video in response to the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida. As a junior, she worked on planning a retirement celebration for a custodian who had been working at Abington for 50 years.
“I realized early just how much student council had to offer,” Levette said. “I love being so involved in being a representative for my school community. I especially liked being able to be someone the kids were comfortable talking to about things they wanted to do and giving them a voice.”
Levette – mature beyond her years - has a bigger picture viewpoint and clearly wants to make an impact in the world after high school. As a young black woman, Levette said she feels a responsibility to be a leader and stand up for those who feel their voices are not being heard.
Her academic interests are varied, with her favorite classes ranging from Literature to Computer Science to Chinese Government. Levette hasn’t chosen a college yet but is focusing on all-female schools with strong programs in education, public policy and language learning.
“I love reading and writing, combining and analyzing the two,” she said. “I may be interested in working in government in the future, or maybe computer science since there aren’t a lot of women in the field, let alone black women. It’s something where I could be unique and inspire others just by being involved. And I’m focusing on all-women schools because they produce powerful women, and I feel like that type of environment is where I would thrive the most.”
Levette isn’t sure if playing collegiate tennis will be in the cards for her. She’s interested in the prospect, although it sounded as if tennis won’t be a deciding factor. If Levette doesn’t play for a school (“I would definitely play if I could bring Jess with me,” she said with a laugh), she’s still interested in playing competitively in tournaments at the club or recreational level as an adult. She and Reinach will compete in the SOL doubles tournament next week, which could be the end of the line in Levette’s high school career.
Whatever happens, she has zero regrets, with tennis having served as a vehicle in her ability to connect with all types of people within the Abington community as a leader and ambassador for the school.
“I can’t believe how far I’ve made it,” she said. “I made a plan for myself, but I’ve tried to just live in the moment and see where I ended up. One thing I really appreciated about these four years was after I won the student council election, a few of the black kids in school told me they were so glad I won and asked me how they could get involved in that or how they could get involved in tennis or computer science.
“That’s what inspires me, knowing I’m making an impact in the lives of others. That’s what I wanted to do and it’s what I’ve done. It’s what I wanted to achieve and it’s what I have.”