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How Lexi Vernon overcame hearing loss, now a Centennial softball ace

lexi vernon, cochlear implants, softball, pitchers, centennial high school, centennial softball, top gun softball

Centennial pitcher Lexi Vernon never needed sign language. She can read lips, if she has to, but only uses that skill if necessary. 

In essence, Vernon suffers no ill affects from the congenital hearing loss she's had to navigate through since she was born.

But that doesn't mean the Lady Cougars sophomore, who has Power 5 college interest from schools like Iowa and Indiana, hasn't had a difficult path to walk. While a Cochlear implant allowed Vernon to hear, she and her family, had to play catch-up from a condition that should have been caught days after she was born in December of 2007.

"She was skipped, by accident, the day she was born," Lexi's mother, Jamie Motes, said about the routine auditory screening most newborns receive. "We felt great and left the hospital like any other parent, after Lexi was born."

She's a Nashville area high school softball standout for Centennial and has been welcomed by her Centennial teammates after transferring from Franklin prior to the school year.

Vernon's infield teammates gathered in a group hug just after the final out in last Monday's 5-2 win over Independence. Vernon tossed a complete-game, three-hitter and struck out 10 as the Lady Cougars improved to13-5.
"I love it out here," said Vernon who, after Monday's win, has pitched 83 innings with 124 strikeouts and a 1.43 ERA. "I'm relaxed out here. Playing softball is like second nature to me."

Vernon is a veteran of the travel softball circuit and has been a standout in her first season at Centennial. She missed most of her freshman season at Franklin with a broken ankle suffered while playing flag football. Softball is her only sport now.

Lack of speech worried Lexi Vernon's parents

Two months after Vernon was born, her pediatrician noticed she hadn't been given a hearing test after her birth. Despite failing the screening in both ears, Motes and Lexi's dad, Kevin, were told not to be alarmed and to schedule another visit in six to nine months.

After 10 months, both Jamie and Kevin grew increasingly concerned that Lexi was not responding to loud noises and wasn't developing speech, despite also having a brother, Jacob, who is two years older.

In March of 2009, a 13-month old Lexi arrived at Vanderbilt Hospital still unable to talk. She was diagnosed as "profoundly deaf." Finally knowing the reason behind the lack of Lexi's auditory development was little solace.

"She heard nothing," Jamie said. "She'd never heard a sound. Never heard language. Never heard laughter. Our world went dark."

Jamie and Kevin moved to Nashville from Columbus, Ohio prior to Lexi's birth, following Kevin's brother, Rascal Flatts band member Gary LeVox. Never one to sit and sulk, they began working on the best way to help their daughter. They chose to have Lexi fitted with Cochlear implants.

Lexi Vernon given gift of sound

Lexi was implanted with Cochlear implants at 18-months-old at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. The electronic device consists of an external processor that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin. The implant does not restore normal hearing, but bypasses portions of the ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.

Jamie and Kevin were told to talk to their daughter constantly, to explain in simple terms her environment in an effort to help her develop speech and understand her surroundings.

"Knowing that your kid is hearing your voice for that very first time, it was extremely emotional," Kevin Vernon said. "If you watch any video of someone's 'activation day', that's what they call it when the first time they turn on the implant, you can see everyone has tears. That was us."

Lexi, 16, was too young to recall that moment, but can recall when she became acutely aware of her hearing issue.

"I was so quiet as a kindergartner," she said. "Especially if I was having trouble communicating with other kids. I really didn't learn to develop confidence in speaking with classmates until I was in maybe middle school."

Lexi Vernon thrives despite setbacks

With the help of speech therapists and audiologists, at places like the Mama Lere Hearing School and the Belle Meade Children's Center, Lexi was fully mainstreamed into school by age 4. Lexi has been through different schools looking for the right academic environment that can support hearing loss.

Jamie decided to create a charity in 2011 that addressed specific needs with people dealing with hearing loss.

That developed into Songs for Sound, a charity organization, that helps connect people to life-changing hearing health resources. As the CEO of the organization, Jamie has helped to increase awareness for hearing loss resources and provide access to free testing.

"That's a lot to overcome as a young kid," Centennial coach Jeff Serbin said. "But now, you wouldn't know she had an implant unless you looked behind her ears. Her speech is fine. She can hear things fine."

Almost too fine.

Their were times when Lexi was younger, she could get overwhelmed with her environment and she admitted she sometimes removes the processors from behind her ears when she's at home.

"It's so peaceful," she said, laughing. "I can't hear a thing and that can be a relief."

Reach sports writer George Robinson at and on the X platform (formerly Twitter) @Cville_Sports. 

Here to read the full article in the Tennessean, see video and additional photos