Keith Levinthal Explains How Philanthropy Has Reinvigorated Our Athletics’ Visual Identity
Based on the thunderous applause and cheers he received from students when debuting Sidwell Friends School’s new mascot, Head of School Bryan Garman can certainly attest to the power of the fox. As part of the Founder’s Day reveal of the Athletic Department’s new visual identity, Garman donned a fox costume and was an instant hit. While Keith Levinthal, the David P. Pearson ’52 Director of Athletics, unveiled the visual identity that will grace uniforms, facilities, and spirit attire, the fox charmed students of all ages with playful dancing, mischievous antics, and irresistible confidence.
Levinthal’s announcement of Sidwell Friends Athletics’ new look was greeted by cheers of unbridled delight and raucous enthusiasm. Students began to imagine themselves in uniforms emblazoned with stylish script and the star fox logo. In the capering fox, they saw a mascot that reflected their own cleverness, joviality, and sly humor.
Most importantly, they sensed how this change would unify students across divisions. “We finally feel like one school,” one Middle School student exclaimed.
Unity is at the heart of what Levinthal and the alumni and parent donors who funded the athletics rebranding were trying to achieve. When Levinthal arrived at Sidwell Friends in 2017, he quickly sensed a lack of cohesiveness in the teams’ visual identity: Uniforms’ appearance varied between boys’ and girls’ teams, between Middle and Upper School teams, and between sports. And because the uniforms varied within sports over the years, there was no unifying thread between generations of Sidwell Friends athletes who should be bonded by their shared athletic experiences.
We finally feel like one school.”
“What does it say about a team or organization if you don’t have a cohesive brand?” Levinthal mused. “We have a good story to tell about our program and a lot of great successes, and our image should match that.”
With a cohesive visual identity, Keith knew that the School would further strengthen the team cultures of commitment, accountability, and ownership that coaches ingrain in their teams. It would reflect the multigenerational tale of resilience, determination, and friendship that connects current athletes to their predecessors, while inspiring new students entering the program to connect with its legacy. It would provide the community of alumni, parents, and supporters with a central rallying point.
“I want students to come down the stairs [of the David P. Pearson ’52 Athletic Center] and be excited,” Levinthal said. “You show what you care about by what you invest in, and we want students to know we are invested in athletics.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that an effort designed to promote unity and community would begin with the collective generosity of a small group of donors. As athletes or parents of athletes at Sidwell Friends, these donors understood that athletics are part of educating the whole child, and that the Quaker values students learn in the classroom and elsewhere in the School are reinforced in practices, team activities, and games. They also recognized that their investment would have an invaluable impact on the athletics program and all students who benefit from it.
Together, they provided the financial resources that enabled the School to proceed. After an extensive proposal process, the School selected Pentagram, a leading identity and design firm best known for creating iconic logos that are simple yet polished.
Over the course of the fall and winter, Levinthal worked with the Communications staff and Pentagram to solicit insights from coaches, students, faculty, staff, and alumni about the spirit and character of Sidwell Friends. The designers listened for moments of genuine excitement as members of this community shared what makes the School unique. As Pentagram synthesized these insights and distilled them into various designs, a student athletics advisory committee helped Levinthal winnow the options.
With the Fox Den on the Upper School campus and George Fox being the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, the fox seemed like a natural choice for the Sidwell Friends Quakers. The challenge was finding a suite of logos and images that captured what it means to be a Quaker school in the nation’s capital.
“Our students are young. What will be visually appealing to a 14- or 15-year-old?” Levinthal reflected. “We knew we should design with that in mind, because they are the ones we want to do this for.”
By the time the fox made its first official appearance on Founder’s Day, it had already been well-vetted by a significant cross section of the Sidwell Friends students, alumni, and faculty. While Levinthal listened carefully to the student perspective from the beginning and suspected that they would be enthusiastic about the dynamic designs, he is surprised by the enduring volume of students’ excitement since the announcement.
“At least a dozen kids—5th and 6th graders—have stopped by my office on the way to PE to tell me how much they like the fox,” Levinthal said. “They ask if they can have stickers to put on their belongings and say they can’t wait to put on uniforms with the new logo. It’s gratifying that they feel excited enough to knock on my door to share that.”
Now that students are eager to model the new visual identity, the next steps are to roll out the much-anticipated uniforms in the near future. Because
the response to the design suite was so overwhelmingly positive, from parents, alumni, and students alike, Levinthal hopes to accelerate the uniform replacement schedule to ensure that as many teams as possible can draw inspiration from the shared brand.
Seeing the immediate impact that their generosity has had, some of the parent and alumni donors have decided to augment their original gifts with new resources to implement the design. That includes gifts that will help with the rollout of uniforms, as well as gifts to reimagine the lower lobby of the Athletic Center. These donors can envision how the new visual identity will evoke pride and school spirit from players and spectators, and they are inspired by the idea that past and present will mingle through the alumni athletes who will be featured in the Athletic Center’s design.
“Like the new visual identity, it won’t just be the facility that wows you,” Levinthal said. “It will be the story of the entire Sidwell Friends community that wows you.”