Cody Avila doesn’t wear stocking caps anymore unless he’s cold or just wants to look cool.
Not long ago, he hid behind them.
As Avila’s hearing started to fail in middle school, he used the caps to conceal hearing aids and, later, an implanted electronic medical device that transmits sound signals to the brain.
“I was having a hard time dealing with the loss,” said Avila, 17, who now has no hearing left. “I thought it would label me as a freak, as different.”
The hearing loss is a hereditary condition that runs in his mother’s family.
Avila felt isolated and tried to swallow the pain. By the time he left Jarrett Middle School and entered Parkview High School, he was experimenting with drugs and thinking about dropping out.
Springfield Public Schools provides deaf interpreters and sign language courses in select schools.
His worried mother suggested he enroll at the Missouri School for the Deaf, where he could finish high school around other teens with little or no hearing.
“If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for him,” said Becky Avila, who is deaf and a 1976 graduate of the school. “I survived.”
Becky Avila, who grew up in Springfield and initially attended public schools, wrestled with the decision to transfer to the state school because it is located in Fulton, 160 miles away.
The Missouri School for the Deaf, established by the state legislature in 1851, is the oldest residential deaf school west of the Mississippi River. Tuition, room and board at the K-12 school is free.
Enrolling at the state school meant leaving family and friends in Springfield to live on campus during the week. Cody Avila takes the bus home most weekends but his mom wasn’t so lucky.
“I was there for a month the first time before I had enough money for a bus ticket,” she said. “It was sink or swim. It was tough.”
Cody Avila made the move but didn’t immediately feel at home in Fulton either. He had spent so much time trying to fit into a hearing world that his sign language skills were lagging.
He missed his parents, who are divorced but both live in Springfield, and longtime girlfriend Alexandria Frizell. She can hear but is learning sign language.
Cody Avila briefly retreated to Parkview before returning to the state school to stay. He embraced the close-knit environment — there are only a few dozen students in the high school — and started to thrive.
“At Missouri School for the Deaf, you are a person. People don’t see you as a name or a number,” he said. “There is a support system. We are all friends … We depend on each other.”
He went out for football, playing wide receiver, and now serves as the team’s co-captain. He joined student council and was elected the student body president this school year.
Along the way, Avila said he became “more accepting of my disability and saw it more as part of what defines me.”
But, when Avila was recruited to join the Academic Bowl team, he dragged his feet.
He wasn’t interested in being quizzed, in front of audiences, about social studies, language, literature, science, technology, math, the arts, deaf studies, current events, pop culture and sports.
He sat through the first practice with his arms crossed and his eyes fixed on the ceiling. Then he started paying attention.
“I knew the answers,” he said. “No one was answering so I did.”
The school’s team started competing in regional Great Plains Schools for the Deaf tournaments. It started winning.
Cody Avila was named an All Star player.
This spring, the team — with Avila as captain — earned a wildcard spot to compete in the national tournament April 23-26 in Washington D.C. Only 24 teams are chosen each year.
“The preparation of these students to compete on a national level is an example of the great things Missouri schools are doing for all students every day,” said Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven, in a news release. “We are excited for these kids and will be cheering them on in April.”
Cody Avila said he wants to win but when the location of the national tournament was announced, he felt he already had. Teams will compete at Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf and hard of hearing in D.C.
It’s the place where he plans to enroll this fall to study film and education.
Until the tournament came up, Cody Avila was going to have to move to the campus later this year without having been there for a visit.
“I wanted to but we never really had the money to go,” he said. “I’m getting to go, it’s amazing. It’s a really great honor.”
He plans to pay for college by accessing grants available because of his disability and family’s low income.
Before enrolling at the Missouri School for the Deaf, Cody Avila wasn’t sure he’d finish high school or ever go to college. Now, he can’t imagine not going.
“There is a lot of stigma on deaf people, that if you are deaf you are dumb and you can’t do anything at all,” he said. “I am proof that is not true. You can do anything.”
SG Mission: to serve our viewers by providing reliable, valuable, and important Deaf community oriented information in every newcast.