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Senior Spotlight: A family man

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez High School senior Charles Bates, center, has a strong bond with his family. After his mother, Monica Fleming, pictured in the photo Bates holds, died when he was young, Bates found support from family in school and in sports, including, from left, sisters Keidra Fleming, Charnese Fleming, 15, grandmother Sheila Hunt, uncle Derrick James, cousin Marcus Hooker, 12, and aunt Simone James.

NATCHEZ — Charles Bates’ world came crashing down on him even before he was old enough to realize.

But fortunately, when the bottom fell out, Bates had a strong family safety net to catch him before he hit the ground.

The Natchez High School senior suffered a great loss at just 2 years of age when his mother, Monica Fleming died. He was left with his grandmother, Sheila Hunt, and aunt, Simone James.

Now, 14 years later, Bates is a standout on the Bulldog football team, and his family circle — along with the memory of his mother — has provided him with plenty of motivation for his future.

“Especially with my momma passing, I just want to keep pushing for her so she’d be happy,” Bates said. “Sometimes I feel bad about it. I have my moments that I don’t really like to talk to anybody, but she is always with me. Before every game, I think about her. The No. 1 thing on my mind is my momma.”

Bates lives with his aunt most nights, but sometimes stays with his grandmother. Both women provide motivation for the senior to have a successful future, and his uncle, Derrick James, has provided the inspiration.

“After high school, I plan to go to college, and I really want to go to Mississippi State and be an engineer,” Bates said. “I want to follow in my uncle’s footsteps.”

Derrick said he is honored to be an inspiration for Charles.

“I’m thrilled,” Derrick said. “I’m glad he decided to follow that lead. It’s very important and great for me to be a male figure in his life.”

Bates said he has loved football for as long as he can remember, and he has become one of the top defensive players for the Bulldogs this season.

“Football has always been a dream of mine since I was younger,” he said. “I like to hit people. That’s why I play defense, and I have fun doing it.”

Bates said head coach Lance Reed has had a huge impact for him on and off the field.

“I just listen to coach Reed, work hard at practice and get a lot of advice from him,” Bates said.

Both Hunt and Simone credit one another with being most responsible for the young man Bates has become.

“It’s been kind of a challenge, especially for my mom starting all over again,” Simone said. “Charles has two other siblings, and having him along with them has been a challenge to keep them motivated. We just have to keep them focused in school and thinking positive.”

Bates has an older sister, Keidra Fleming, and younger sister, Charnese Fleming. Simone also has two kids of her own, Marcus Hooker and Zoe James, and Hunt said she is impressed with the amount of time Simone finds to take care of the children.

“She does most of the work,” Hunt said.

Bates loves spending time with his family as well as hunting and fishing, he said. He also likes to help Marcus out with his sports.

Simone said she is proud of the way Charles has buckled down at school.

“He’s good in school,” she said. “Whenever he has a problem, he is willing to ask and try hard to do his best in each subject.”

Bates finished Friday night’s game against Brandon High School with seven tackles and six assists, but the Bulldogs fell short and now face a win-or-go-home game against Oak Grove High School Friday.

“The seniors have to be focused and make sure everything is perfect,” he said.

After football season, Bates will start to focus on the powerlifting team that will start its season in December, he said.