Extra work pays off for Natchez High scholar athlete
NATCHEZ — Charlie “C.J.” Latham knows he has to give maximum effort to be the brains of the operation on and off the baseball diamond.
C.J., a freshman catcher for Natchez High School, knows how to get ahead in life — set a goal and work hard for it.
When he was in seventh grade at Morgantown Middle School, C.J. set academic and athletic goals for himself.
Athletically, C.J. wanted to prepare himself for the next level.
“I was able to try out (for the baseball team), but I waited until my ninth-grade year,” C.J. said. “I sort of regret that I did that, but I came back stronger (in the ninth grade).
“I was trying to develop my skills with throwing, my accuracy and my speed. You always have spots where you can improve on, but I developed myself to the point where I can try out for the (high school) team and make it.”
As C.J. spent extra time working on his game, he knew he had to challenge himself more academically if he wanted to succeed in high school.
“I asked my mom to move me into pre-algebra instead of math class so I could get ahead and be better prepared for high school,” C.J. said.
The extra work paid off for C.J. as he plays on the junior varsity and varsity baseball team at Natchez High while maintaining a 3.5 GPA.
But C.J. said the 3.5 didn’t come easy. He found out quickly that he was spreading himself thin, and he had to better prioritize his time.
“The first nine weeks of school my grades slacked off because it was my first few months in high school, but I had to find my rhythm, and I came back strong in the second nine weeks and made honor roll,” he said.
C.J. said he had to take note of his schedule, and spend more time studying.
“My schedule is baseball, church and education,” C.J. said. “Between those things, I only have so much time.”
C.J. is involved in the youth ministry at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in which he works the sound booth on Sunday, he attends youth meeting on Monday and teaches Bible study on Tuesday.
Despite his many duties, C.J. said he found a way to balance his life.
And ironically, religion, sports and academics all played a role in helping him become better affiliated with each.
“(As a catcher), you’re like the brains on the field,” C.J. said. “You tell everyone where to go and you have the best eyes on the field.
“I realized how much focus that took and if (I could) learn how to focus on the baseball field and take that in the classroom to focus, it works out.”
C.J. said he also must take that same focus into church on Sunday, as his controls in the sound booth are a big part of the pastor’s sermons. If he messes up, everyone notices.
Natchez head coach Brian Kossum said he saw the dedication in C.J. early.
“I met C.J. last year and he started coming out toward the end of the year, even when he wasn’t a part of the team,” Kossum said. “He was in the dugout sitting next to me asking questions and chasing foul balls. Because of that, I let him play last summer.”
Kossum said C.J. showed great improvement throughout the summer, and it earned him more playing time.
“He comes to practice every day ready to work,” Kossum said.
Kossum admits being catcher is difficult, but C.J. has stepped up to the challenge.
“Catching is rough, it takes a special person to get back there, not everybody wants to do it,” Kossum said. “They do a lot of the dirty work because the catcher doesn’t come out of the game on defense.
“C.J. is the busiest man at practice every day because of that and that work ethic has allowed him to do better and even make a smart in a game this year.”
C.J. said he aspires to attend Louisiana State University or Southeastern Louisiana University when he graduates to major in sports medicine.
C.J. is the son of Chuck and Angela Latham.