By STEVE KRAH
There are some names that are synonymous with certain sports at particular schools.
Levitz is tied to wrestling at Prairie Heights High School near Brushy Prairie in LaGrange County, Indiana.
The family has long enjoyed mat success for the Panthers.
It started with Dan Levitz, who went 58-21 and graduated in 1989.
Second brother John Levitz (1994) went 133-17 and was a state qualifier at 125 in 1992 and placed fourth at state at 140 in 1994.
Third brother Mike Levitz (1996) enjoyed a 144-18 career and placed third at 145 in 1996.
Doug Levitz (2015) posted a 165-33 mark and was a state qualifier at 145 in 2015.
Jed Levitz (2018) went 178-31 and was a state qualifier at 160 in both 2016 and 2018.
Doug and Jed are the sons of John Levitz.
Two brothers — senior Isiah and sophomore Sam — are the two oldest sons of Mike Levitz and part of the family legacy. Youngest brother Matt Levitz is a 105-pound eighth grader.
“I was destined to become a wrestler,” says Isiah Levitz. “But the being good part, that’s more of the own person’s work and how much they put into the sport.
“Just because we’re Levitzes doesn’t always mean we’re going to be good. We still have to put in our work.”
Isiah Levitz (121-31) was a sectional and regional champion and placed sixth at the IHSAA State Finals at 152 pounds in 2018-19 and has been competing in 2019-20 at 160. He is currently 10-0.
“I’m getting better,” says Isiah Levitz. “I just need to work on being crisp, getting to my moves and working my offense. It’s more of a mindset thing for me more than anything physical.”
While some wrestlers have a teammate they drill with on steady basis, Isiah tends to work out with many Panthers in the practice room.
“I try to get my hands on everybody,” says Isiah Levitz. “I have a variety of different partners and I see a variety of different positions.”
Sam Levitz (31-4 for his career) was a sectional champion at 120 in 2018-19. Competing at 138, he is 6-2 so far in 2019-20.
Isiah Levitz and Zeke Rowdon (Class of 2019) have been Sam’s primary workout partners.
“They bring speed, agility and a lot of strength,” says Sam Levitz.
“I’ve been watching my brother. I do what he does. I’m more on the quick side and I’m decently strong. I consider myself to be better neutral or on bottom.”
Isiah says Sam benefits from his position in the lineage.
“He’s got a lot of people behind him,” says Isiah Levitz. “He gets the experience of not being the first one in the family to try and be a test subject. “He’s going to be a lot more refined. He’s got a lot of experience.”
Isiah first competed in wrestling around age 5, but it was later that he really took to the sport.
“It didn’t stick that I loved the sport until about sixth or seventh grade,” says Isiah Levitz. “I started to believe this is for me. I started putting in the work and started getting better.”
Along the way, he also started becoming a leader. But not the loud kind.
“I don’t use my vocals a lot,” says Isiah Levitz. “I lead by example and my team follows because they respect me quite a bit.”
Mike Levitz says he and Isiah have spent much of his high school career focusing on winning close matches.
“He’s not got the surprise factor the family’s known for,” says Mike Levitz of Isiah. “My nephews were always pinners."
“(Isiah’s) not a great pinner. He’s just a solid all-around wrestler. He gives it everything he’s got on and off the mat."
“Isiah has come leaps and bounds the last three or four years. He’s worked his tail off.”
Brett Smith is in his ninth season as head coach at Prairie Heights. His assistants include Mike Levitz, John Levitz, Lee Fry, Craig Hoyer, Dylan Forbes and Van Barroquillo.
“A lot of my coaches have told me to just believe in myself and have confidence,” says Isiah Levitz. “That’s really helped me with my offensive skills. I used to be pretty timid on the mat. Now I’m really aggressive because I believe in my own moves.”
The coaching advice that sticks with Sam?
“Be the best in everything you do and try your hardest,” says Sam Levitz.
Isiah impacts current and future Prairie Heights grapplers with his example and willingness to take them along for the ride and passing along to them what he already knows.
“He’s been around it long enough,” says Smith. “He knows what it takes to get better."
“He’s not afraid to pull extra kids in with him because once he leaves there’s going to be some foot marks there to replace and to walk in.”
The example also extends to the class room. Isiah is a regular on the honor roll and has been academic all-state.
Mother Abby Levitz is a nurse practitioner in LaGrange. Isiah (surgeon) and Sam (radiologist) say they are both considering careers in the medical field.
“I want to spend the rest of my life helping people,” says Isiah.
If he has to pick a favorite school subject Isiah says he would choose chemistry.
A 1997 Prairie Heights graduate, Smith has long known about the Levitz connection.
“They have just been a staple,” says Smith. “They’re hard workers.”
From working for their parents’ tree service to bailing hay to wrestling, the older Levitz boys “put their nose to the grindstone” and that’s carried over to the next generation.
“You never hear them complain about anything,” says Smith of Isiah and Sam Levitz. “They’re some of the hardest workers we’ve seen."
“If you try to get through being average, you’re going to be average or below average. If you’re working 50 percent then you’re going to get out 50 percent.”
When Smith took over the high school program, he invited John Levitz and Mike Levitz to join the coaching staff and the Panther Wrestling Club was established.
Mike Levitz asked former Panthers head coach Fry to come back.
“He’s all in,” says Mike Levitz. “He’s a godsend, Coach Fry.
“He makes you want to be better. He truly is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. The kids love him. He gets the most out of them."
“I’m very thankful that he came back in and joined the group.”
Fry, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, will be part of the inaugural Prairie Heights High School Athletic Hall of Fame class to be honored at halftime of the Angola-Prairie Heights varsity boys game game on Jan. 10.
Among those also going into the Hall is Terry Levitz. The 1971 PHHS graduate was a standout running back and still holds four football records at the school. He also played basketball, baseball and ran track. He is a third cousin to Isiah and Sam Levitz. Terry’s father and Mike’s grandfather are brothers.
Prairie Heights is scheduled to return to the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne Jan. 4. The Panthers placed second in Class 1A in 2014-15, won the 1A title in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 and placed second in 2018-19.
Some other highlights on the Panthers’ schedule include the New Haven Super 10 Dec. 21, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 27-28, Northeast Corner Conference Championships Jan. 25 at West Noble, IHSAA Westview Sectional Feb. 1, IHSAA Goshen Regional Feb. 8, IHSAA Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 15 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 21-22.
“We’ve had a pretty strong run the last five or six years,” says Mike Levitz. “It’s been a lot of fun.”