Volleyball helps special education student find her voice

Photo: Caitie McMekin, News-Sentinel

Volleyball helps special education student find her voice

Girls Volleyball

Volleyball helps special education student find her voice


Simple actions aren’t taken for granted within the context of the Central (Knoxville) High School volleyball program.

The other day, when sophomore outside hitter Hannah Vogt walked on the court and joined three teammates for a pre-practice pepper, it was enough to cause second-year head coach Lorri Johnson to break into a smile.

Big deals happen all the time with the Bobcats.

The background gives credence to the unique nature of the situation.

  • Johnson has been coaching volleyball since 1982. She knows how to develop a team and what the game can do for a player.
  • Last year, she was a teacher’s aide in Central’s special education department. That’s where she met Vogt.
  • Early-childhood trauma has played a role in Vogt being non-verbal by choice. She had difficulty being part of a group and putting her skills on display.

Combine the sport of volleyball, which is premised in verbal communication, with a 5-foot-6 young lady who seemed interested in being part of something bigger than herself, and it was a match that has worked well.

“The volleyball players were a positive peer group for Hannah,” said Johnson. “She has blossomed so much. When you’re on the court, you have to talk; you owe it to your teammates to communicate.”

Vogt, who hasn’t quite found her comfort zone with an unfamiliar reporter yet, was able to briefly verbalize the trepidation she had with playing volleyball.

“Messing up,” she said, confirming Johnson’s suggestion that her fear of failure has paralyzed her progress at times.

“We’d be doing blocking drills and she’d stand off in the corner just watching for three or four weeks,” Johnson said. “She wants to get better. She wants more playing time. I told her, the way to do that is by doing the drills.”

Now those drills are second nature. Everybody messes up. What makes this different, she said, is that teammates support you.

“Hannah’s game has morphed to the point where she’s better and better,” said Grace Cochran, the Bobcats’ only senior. “It’s normal now for her to be part of this team – on and off the court.”

Vogt never used to eat lunch before, since there was no one to sit with. Now, she’s part of the volleyball table and the friends from the periphery. She has even attended a football game with her friends and teammates this year.

“We have such great kids in this program,” said Johnson. “Volleyball is their ministry and their mission. It’s personal to them.”

“The coach should be congratulated for her effort. A lot of coaches are just there for the paycheck. Coach Johnson saw potential in her and made such a great effort.”

Earlier this week during a junior varsity win over Catholic, Vogt came up with a kill that paved the way for a win in the second set.

“Just to hear all the players on the bench cheering was great,” said Johnson, whose JV team is 10-4 already, after winning just nine games all of last season. “Hannah helps give everyone some perspective.”

Even though she’s not proficient in her explanation, Vogt has her dreams.

“Play varsity,” she said, not able to contain a smile.

She also has words – at least a few words – of advice for someone in a similar situation.

“Believe you can do it,” Vogt said.

That gets the message across loud and clear.


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