Members of the Holy Redeemer girls volleyball team pose
with donations collected for the Blue Chip Farm Animal Refuge.

WILKES-BARRE — Holy Redeemer High School athletic teams and cheerleaders are playing and performing as hard off the field, as well as on, to be champions in every respect as the 2022-23 academic year kicks off.

The “Play Like A Royal!” service-project initiative at the Wilkes-Barre Catholic secondary school has team members uniting to address the social causes of the day, with the same competitive edge as taking on opponents on the opposite sidelines.

Cody Opalka, the school’s newly appointed vice principal, spearheads the project by echoing the “Play Like A Royal” mission that permeates the concept: “Holy Redeemer High School athletics is committed to educating ethically responsible student-athletes who uphold the pillar of servant-leadership as they put faith in action in their school, in athletic arenas and within the community at large.”

Team requirements that instill diligence in conditioning the athlete’s spirit state that at least one group service project is to be completed within the team’s season, along with a Catholic-identity faith component requiring prayer during every practice and competition and one seasonal Mass attended by the team.

Thus far, the Holy Redeemer girls volleyball team has led the way by organizing a donation drive to help offset the needs of the Blue Chip Farm Animal Refuge in the Back Mountain area, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The junior high golfers will participate in the “Adopt-a-Highway” project on Sept. 24, as team members do their part in collecting trash along the entrance and exit ramps of Interstate 81 near the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township.

According to Opalka, the Royal cheerleading squads are volunteering at the third annual Drive-thru Trunk-or-Treat Supporting Autism Awareness NEPA on Oct. 9. As the cheerleaders lend their helping hands to the effort for a second time, they hope it becomes a yearly tradition.

A natural for the school’s cross country teams will be their participation in the “Walk to End Epilepsy” on Saturday, Oct. 15, at PNC Field in Moosic. All proceeds raised will benefit the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern PA and the opening of a Wilkes-Barre community center serving those afflicted by the medical condition.

“This project resonates with the athletes,” Opalka noted, “as one of their own will benefit from the local community center.”

Also on Oct. 15, Holy Redeemer’s girls soccer program will host a “Pink Game,” with money raised from shirt sales and raffle baskets benefitting the “Paint Pittston Pink” annual crusade marking October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the battle against all cancers.

Girls on the field hockey team will volunteer at the annual “Pink Game” to fight breast cancer on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Players will be selling “Fight for a Cure” t-shirts to benefit the Saint John Paul II Cancer Research Institute, a non-profit medical research facility devoted to finding cures for various medical diseases. The event will also include a 50/50 drawing and gift basket raffles.

The boys soccer team at Holy Redeemer has already given of their time and efforts to the Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank, as their day was spent packaging food boxes for distribution to various food banks and senior centers in the area.

Upcoming service projects planned by the school’s athletic programs include the football team visiting the Graham Academy School in Kingston to assist students with autism and behavioral challenges, and varsity golfers volunteering at local nursing homes.

The Holy Redeemer girls tennis squad and junior high school soccer team are also preparing to participate in clean-up projects at Coal Street Park and Kirby Park in the Wilkes-Barre area.