By David Wang
When the alarm went off in the wee hours of the early morning, Jesse DiLevo rubbed his eyes sleepily and tossed himself out of bed. He stared at his dimly lit clock and the clock stared back at him. 4:15 AM. Tick-tock-tick-tock. Today was a Tuesday, which also happened to be an A day, so he knew he would have to be at the school by 6:25 AM to teach morning swim. Routine spared him 15 precious minutes to get dressed, brush his teeth, and pack his breakfast. His car, a black 2018 Kia Optima, was waiting in the driveway. The car veered onto Nichols Road and onto the Long Island Expressway, as Jesse DiLevo left his home in Selden to work as a high school P.E. teacher.
His morning trip from Selden took 50 minutes, and his trip back home will take a little more than an hour—give or take traffic. Selden is a plain suburban town with 20,000 residents, a town 41 miles east of Great Neck and right out Exit 62N on the LIE, smack dab in the heart of Suffolk County. It is a town much like Great Neck, with a school district that has two high schools. k. Jesse and his twin brother Dylan DiLevo both grew up in Selden and went to Newfield High School, where Jesse ran track, played football, and wrestled for the Newfield Wolverines.
In the summer of 2011, DiLevo drove to the far reaches of upstate New York to attend SUNY Cortland and earn a degree in Physical Education.
During his time at Play Rugby USA, DiLevo was in charge of organizing the NYC Cup, an annual rugby competition that draws youth rugby teams from all five boroughs. “A few schools really stood out to me…some kids that I coached that were from Harbor Heights,” he said. Harbor Heights is a run down middle school up by Fort Washington, near the northern tip of Manhattan island.
If you search ‘Harbor Heights’ up on Google, you won’t find much. Niche.com rates the school as a lowly C-. Yet there is a vibrant Hispanic community around the school and many of the kids there speak Spanish better than they speak English. “There was a language barrier, but they were eager to just be there. They’d never heard of rugby before and I was there to give them a brand new experience. Those kids definitely stick out in my mind.”
Randall’s Island is at the fork of the Harlem and the East River and is a short drive over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge from East Harlem. You can almost see the entire New York City skyline from one of the fields on Randall’s Island, a soaring beacon of hope to the kids of the inner-city that even though they may be trying to make ends meet, that one day they will achieve dreams beyond the tallest skyscrapers.
“I don’t remember which team won. I remember there being 700-something kids there, and it poured—I mean, it was just raining so heavily, but that didn’t stop anybody, everyone still showed up, teams were there, parents were there, and they toughed out the weather all day.”
“I’m taking a few classes at Brockport, which is nearby, to try and get a Health Certificate,” he says, a faint smile breaking across his face.
“So you wanna teach health and coach some teams at South?” I ask.
He nods. “Yeah, that’s the goal.”
But no matter what comes to pass, DiLevo’s heart will still be with the bright-eyed kids from Harbor Heights Middle School, and Fields 72 to 75 on the southeastern tip of Randall’s Island, and the rugby fields of the Suffolk Bull Mooses, and the quiet town of Selden.