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Rick Rasmussen: At home on the court and in the classroom

Posted March 26, 2017 5:00 a.m.
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Some may think it hard pressed to find an average high school basketball coach quoting Lord Tennyson. But then some would probably say that Newton High boys basketball. 

“To seek and not to yield, as Tennyson wrote,” said Rasmussen. “That sort of sums up what I try to do.” 

Most people know Rasmussen as a fixture pacing the sidelines of the Newton High School gym. He’s been coaching the Rams, either as an assistant or as head coach for 19 years. It’s almost literally become a second home for Rasmussen. 

But just as cozy for him is the classroom and the golf course. Rasmussen also serves as the head coach for Newton’s golf squad. His golf game’s so good — his best score is a 66 — that his name can be found on the premises of The Oak’s golf course. 

“I’m the club champion at the Oak’s,” he said with a slight chuckle and smile. “Name’s on the parking lot. That’s a hobby of mine when I’m not in the basketball season.” 

To talk with Rasmussen, one would see that the coach has many sides. The one he seems almost as proud of — if maybe not more so in some ways — is his role as a teacher. Rasmussen teach AP english and literature, and to hear him speak of his students, it almost sounds like he’s talking about players from his Newton hoops team that spent the better part of the season nationally ranked. 

“My teaching is very important to me,” Rasmussen said. “I’m not a coach who doesn’t care about the classroom. Being that I teach an AP class, I have the most talented english students on campus. I’m really proud to teach them.” 

Rasmussen takes joy in journeying through classic novels, literature and poetry with his students. In addition to finding worth in the works of Tennyson, he says Shakespearian work is his favorite, in particular the classic tragedy play, Othello.

“There’s just some great themes in and messages in there, and really in all literature,” he said. “Messages about life. So many of these classic works of literary merit are loaded with great themes for life, such as overcoming things in history and things of the past.” 

Such lessons tend to crossover into his work as one of the more decorated high school basketball coaches in Georgia — especially when he finds himself having to guide his team through the ups and downs of a long basketball season. 

This past season was particularly intriguing, as Newton wore the target of being one of the best high school basketball teams in the nation. Although the Rams came up short in the Elite Eight round of the Class AAAAAAA playoffs, losing to eventual state champion Tift County, it was still a season chocked full of teachable moments that the coach says he hopes will carry over into successful adulthood for his players. 

“I think the most satisfying thing about all of it is helping the kids get to the next level,” he said. 

“Seeing guys like Shane Henry graduate from Virginia Tech and get a degree, Derrick Henry get an MBA from Citadel, and Stephen Croone graduate from Furman, it’s really special. And even these guys from this year’s team. They are teenagers when I coach them or teach them, and we’re not perfect. But helping them achieve  is very gratifying.” 

Almost as gratifying as Rasmussen’s favorite dessert which is tiramisu. 

“I just had some the other day,” he said. “Italian. I love it.” 

What he loves more, though, is the satisfaction of knowing that he’s been just as successful and impactful as a teacher as he is a coach. In fact, he’ll tell you that the two kind of meld together. 

“The combination of teaching and coaching is what I do, and what I love,” he said. “I love the classroom, and the gym is the classroom. It’s all about life and standards, and raising those standards to help these kids do things they didn’t know they could.”

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