Levi Haines is off to conquer the world.
And I’m betting he will do just that. Maybe he’ll win a gold medal next week at the UWW Cadet World Championships in Hungary, where he will compete in freestyle wrestling at 71 kilograms.
Maybe he won’t.
But I am certain the Biglerville High School senior will be a world beater – on and off the wrestling mat.
Levi was labeled a can’t-miss kid from the start, and anyone who saw him wrestle as a youngster could see why. A blur of constant motion, he possessed the ability to blend pure talent with remarkable athleticism and an uncanny knowledge of the sport, even at a tender age. And things only improved from there.
A pair of runner-up finishes at the PIAA Championships seemed to strengthen Levi’s resolve rather than sow seeds of doubt in his mind. His message to me and any other reporter who stuck a microphone in his face after those difficult losses was consistent: He was there to compete against the best, and win or lose, he was gaining invaluable experience every step of the way. He would get right back to work because not only is that what champions do, but the inside of a wrestling room is undoubtedly his happy place.
And that is where he continued to sharpen his skills to the point where he carved through anything in his path last season as a junior. Levi cut down every opponent he faced, capping an unbeaten season with a state title at 145 pounds. That championship came in style, as a pin in the finals booked his spot in an elite club and also provided his 100th scholastic victory.
But that proved to be a starting point to an incredible chapter of his career, not a culmination.
On April 25th in Wisconsin, Levi battled to the top of a loaded field at 71 kilograms in the UWW Cadet Nationals. He grabbed gold with a fall of Iowa’s tough Aiden Riggins in the third and deciding bout in their best-of-three series in the finals.
With that victory, Levi locked up a spot on the U.S. Cadet world team, an incredible feat. Yet, there was still more to come.
Less than a month later, with speculation ramping up on every recruiting site and social media platform out there, Levi made up his mind and made his intentions known: He will become a Nittany Lion following his career at Biglerville, choosing Penn State University over a list of powerhouse programs vying for his services.
Wrestling for Penn State, which has captured eight team titles in the last 10 years at the NCAA Championships, was one of his dreams. And he will get the opportunity to fulfill it.
He has also made it clear that representing the United States internationally was another lofty goal, and on Tuesday that will come to fruition as well.
I’ve never been surprised by Levi’s accomplishments, not to suggest they haven’t collectively been off-the-charts incredible, or that I pinned sky-high expectations on him. Rather, the more you see and learn, you realize he is capable of great things.
And wrestling for our country is truly a great thing.
While rooting from afar next week, I’ll be appreciative of the moment as a kid from Biglerville puts on our nation’s colors while putting his best foot forward.