Recruit Katelyn Levings makes impact on local courts, prevents impact on faraway field

Katelyn Levings is averaging 12.5 points and 8 rebounds at Edmond Memorial. Courtesy Richard T. Clifton

They were some of the most important catches of Katelyn Levings' life, and not one of them happened anywhere near a basketball court.

Grade-school kids in the Nicaraguan city of Matagalpa -- most of them mesmerized by Levings' 6-foot-3 height and long blonde hair -- delighted in playfully flinging their tiny bodies into the air.

Destination: Levings' waiting arms.

Levings was at a Matagalpa-area school on a mission that was set up by Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Her goal was to teach the kids about arts and crafts, but the kids had something different in mind. During recess they used an unfinished structure behind their school as a play area, climbing up a ledge that was about three feet off the ground and then launching themselves toward Levings and other teachers.

"They would jump in my arms, and they would run back and get in this long line," Levings said of the experience over the 2015 Thanksgiving break. "Sometimes they would throw themselves in groups of two or three, and I would have to hurry and catch them and put them down because the next group of kids would be jumping whether you were ready or not.

"We would do this for hours."

Fortunately for those kids, Levings is a highly trained athlete at Edmond Memorial. The sophomore forward is averaging 12 points and eight rebounds for Memorial, which claimed its regional title earlier this week. Levings is being recruited by Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Stanford, Rice and Arizona State, among others.

Jim Perinovic, Levings' AAU coach for the past five years with the Oklahoma Swarm, said she has evolved into a complete player.

"Katelyn can score from all three levels," he said. "Her athleticism allows her to defend any position on the court, and her basketball IQ is very high."

But what impresses observers most about Levings is her commitment to community service. During spring break last year -- instead of touring malls or vegging around -- Levings donated her time and efforts in Santa Cruz, California. She and about 30 members of a second church group in Edmond, Oakdale Baptist Church, volunteered for beach clean-up while also helping the homeless.

The group filled up three or four tractor loads of debris, which consisted of pieces of wood left on the beach after recent storms, as well as other "icky" things.

"We had gloves on," Levings said. "But we had to look very carefully because there were syringes left on the beach."

Beyond the pick-up Levings said the group handed out care packages with food, water, toothbrushes and other necessities to those who wanted them.

"We would ask them for prayer requests," she said. "Some of them were open and funny and would tell us their life stories. One guy wore cowboy boots and referred to himself as the 'Old Cowboy.'

"Some of their stories were really sad. One guy lost everything in medical bills when his wife suffered a brain tumor. ... It was humbling. It made you grateful for what you have."

Her father, Kenton, who is 6-foot-5, and her mother, 5-9 Brandi, played college basketball at Oklahoma City University, an NAIA school.

The couple has three children, including the oldest, Kendra, a 5-9 guard on the Edmond Memorial team who will play NCAA Division II ball next season at Oklahoma Christian; and youngest son, Karsten, 13.

Kenton started the family's trend of mission trips when he and four other men made a trip to Uganda one decade ago. The tales haven't stopped being told.

Sarah Parker, the youth minister at Oakdale Baptist, is not surprised by all that Levings does.

"She has a passion to serve others wherever God calls her," she said.

Some think Levings, who is a member of two church groups, at Henderson Hills and Oakdale, is overdoing it with her mission work.

Edmond Memorial coach Dandy Peeler said she has overheard people criticizing Levings in different gyms, saying she has risked her ranking by taking too many trips, missing AAU tournaments.

Peeler disagrees.

"This girl is growing the right way," Peeler said. "She has a servant heart. That [unselfishness] is what's going to make her successful, not only in basketball but also in the game of life."

Levings, who has a 4.0 GPA and has never received anything less than an 'A' in any class at any level of school, said doing community service is nonnegotiable. In addition to the trips, Levings also volunteers at Bethany Children's Hospital in her hometown, where she comforts kids in the waiting room.

In fact, she makes it a point to ask coaches who are recruiting her what their teams are doing in the community, and their answers will go a long way toward making her college choice.

Levings said she plans to return to Santa Cruz this year for spring break. She hopes to return to Nicaragua before the end of the year, and a trip to Uganda with her sister is on her wish list, too.

Kenton said his daughters probably feel like they know more about Uganda than he does.

"They've seen the pictures and heard the stories so many times," he said. "They are dying to go. They both have huge hearts to help children."