Cary, North Carolina — When Green Level’s volleyball team takes the court this season, they have a new look.
The Gators swapped out their bright green and navy uniforms for eye-catching orange uniforms, unusual for a school that often has the word “Green” emblazoned across its chest.
But the important thing is not the “GATORS” on the front, nor the “GREEN LEVEL” on the back. Take a look at the sleeves, then the sideline, and you’ll understand why this is a uniform that head coach Alston Godbold says his team “never wants to take off.”
The left sleeve reads “We Fight” and the right sleeve reads “Together.”
That’s a huge props to Reese Roper, one of the varsity’s youngest players. Reese Roper is a sophomore outside hitter whose world changed dramatically last winter when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Last December, two months after her freshman season, something happened.
Roper felt exhausted. Her strength unexpectedly began to decline and she felt unbalanced as she walked around the floor.
When she found herself unable to breathe during a club volleyball practice, Roper and her family began scrambling for answers.
After a trip to the doctor, Roper was initially diagnosed with a form of mononucleosis, but Reese couldn’t fully overcome her symptoms.
Tests in January revealed it was actually leukemia, the most common cancer in children under 15.
“I just didn’t think I was in good health, and once I was diagnosed with leukemia, my life seemed to stop. Not being able to go to school or play volleyball the next day was weird,” Reese noted.
As her freshman year enters the second semester, Roper is actively undergoing treatment while hoping her battle will allow her to return to the sport she loves.
Her team helps spread as much awareness as possible.
In late September, the Gators’ celebration of Roper went up to an octave, dedicating a night dedicated to raising awareness about leukemia. Green Level turned the “swamp” bright orange, filling the gym with hundreds of people from the community and helping to raise more than $10,000 in proceeds.
Rival teams like Greene’s Hope have also started their own tributes, wearing all orange when the Gators visit for what is usually a tight rivalry game.
Even Fuquay-Varina, known for its classic orange color scheme, got involved, providing orange pads for the nets and giving away orange and white volleyballs to the Green Level program for use during games.
Greenleaf has a flair for the dramatic when he wears the orange “Play for Reese” uniforms. They debuted at Cardinal Gibbons Stadium in a highly anticipated non-conference game on the first week of the season.
The Gators battled back in the final three sets of the match before miraculously escaping with a five-set victory.
“When Coach Alston (Godbold) designed these uniforms, it was so special to see my teammates embrace it so much. It shows how much they love and care about me,” Roper said.
On the team’s official “Play for Reese” night, the stands were filled with orange as Green Level rallied to win a thrilling five-set match against Apex after losing the first two sets of the match. Like a Hollywood movie.
Just like that night in September. 21 brought light to Roper’s life at a time when many who experienced his journey were struggling to find it. After giving a pregame speech to the crowd, her teammates hugged her, putting an ear-to-ear smile on the sophomore’s face.
The support was everything she could have hoped for, but it wasn’t a full story until “Play for Reese” played with her again.
Roper is currently in the final stages of treatment, with 11 doctors saying she will be in remission until 2025, when she begins looking to return to the court.
At the beginning of the season, Roper’s only game action was to warm up and help his teammates pass the ball. She has since started participating in select drills in training and serving during warm-ups before games.
Over the past few weeks, she completed a long-awaited trade in surgical masks for knee pads.
September. On the 28th, Roper played for the first time as a sophomore and helped the team defeat Cary 3-0. Leading 24-15 in the third set, Hannah Pantiga found Roper on the outside for a kill.
The green-level touchline fell to the floor in celebration.
Like his battle with leukemia, Roper earned match points.