Lessons of love from a Mississippi high school couple split between schools and sports

Sometimes, romance has to be rescheduled.

Dawson Flowers and Kat Wallace have been dating for just shy of two years, and today will be their second Valentine’s Day as a couple. But there won’t be any hugs and kisses, no exchange of hand-written professions of love, no dinner by candlelight.

“He’ll be in Louisiana playing basketball, and I’ll be at Jones County Junior College on a visit, then I’ll have softball practice and go to church that night,” Kat said.

Affection will have to wait until Thursday, or the weekend.

“We’ll have to make it up,” Dawson said.

Such is the life of young athletes in love.

Dawson, 17, will spend Valentine’s Day at the MAIS AA South State basketball tournament in Minden, Louisiana, as a starting member of the Brookhaven Academy Cougars. Kat, 16, a shortstop for the Brookhaven High Lady Panthers softball team, is preparing for the start of the season.

But they’re used to it. As student-athletes at different schools, involved in multiple sports, they’ve always had to make time. Dawson’s entire school year is tied up in sports, with football and basketball and baseball. Kat’s is, too — slow-pitch in the fall, soccer in the winter and fast-pitch in the spring.

Sometimes they meet for breakfast before school, or Dawson skips Sunday mornings at his home church, Montgomery Baptist, to tag along with Kat to Heucks Retreat Baptist Church.

“We get time wherever we can,” Dawson said. “School, practice, working out on your own — it doesn’t really make it harder to have a relationship. But it doesn’t make it easier, either.”

Dawson and Kat started dating in June 2016, after their freshmen years. They’d always known each other through mutual friends and found familiarity as a couple.

“We’re really similar in a lot of ways. She’s really competitive, I’m really competitive and we just kind of feed off each other,” Dawson said.

It never really ends. Off the field, away from it all, alone together, the athlete inside them both just cannot stop competing.

They push each other to perform in their respective sports. They compare performances and statistics. They race each other to the car when going out, try to beat each other to be first at the restaurant when meeting up. They even compete academically — both made a 31 on the most recent ACT test.

“I’m going to beat him before it’s over with,” Kat said.

But they also pick each other up in hard times. Dawson was there to support Kat when she tore the lateral meniscus in her knee and had to sit out the remainder of the soccer season. The Cougars basketball team has only lost twice this season — both times to rival Parklane — and Kat was there to calm Dawson’s anguish in defeat.

“He just gets a little grouchy and pouts,” Kat explained.

“I don’t pout,” Dawson said.

“Usually, if you feed him, he will be alright,” she said.

Dawson and Kat also have each other’s backs when it comes to school affiliation. Ole Brook and BA do not compete academically, but the two institutions have competed in Brookhaven’s social arena for almost 50 years. But Dawson is right at home in the bleachers among Panther soccer mommas, and Kat is cool with a long car ride to BA basketball games in Louisiana.

“Every family makes the best choice for them. Our families made different choices, but we’ve both been able to succeed academically and athletically,” Kat said. “I’m proud to be a Panther, but I also support Dawson being a Cougar.”

Dawson explained it more casually.

“Growing up in Brookhaven, it’s hard not to know everybody,” he said. “Everybody has their own opinion, and everybody makes the decision that’s best for them.”

Dawson and Kat will have to make their own decision soon. With high ACT scores and impressive stats on the field, both of them will be getting looks from colleges — Kat is already visiting Jones and has offers from Co-Lin and Southwest — and both want to play at the next level. Nothing guarantees they won’t be on opposite ends of the state or nation next August.

Neither one of them are thinking hard about it now.

“We’ll do what we can to figure it out, but we haven’t got that far yet,” Kat said. “But I don’t feel like I’ll go off very far from home. My momma cooks too good.”

There’s plenty of time, and plenty of games. Kat is coming off a sophomore season in which she batted .382, had an on-base percentage of .476 and drove in 26 runs on 34 hits. She scored 35 times herself.

Dawson is stepping onto the mound for a Cougars baseball team sporting three college commitments and playing in a lower district. He also has another football and basketball season ahead of him — he passed for 2,600 yards and 26 touchdowns on the gridiron in 2017 and the basketball team is No. 1 in AA.

The future will have to wait. For now, they’ll keep on pushing each other.

“Dawson even broke down their ACT scores to the 100th decimal point,” said Dawson’s mother, BA softball coach Becky Flowers. “Even though they’re always challenging each other, they have a drama free, balanced life. They’re always proud of each other.”

Kat’s mother, Allison Wallace, agreed.

“They are each other’s encouragers,” she said. “Always pushing each other to be better. They’re both great kids.”

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