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STOVALL: Even a Newton County mainstay can't stay forever
Rick Rasmussen
Coach Rick Rasmussen spent 21 years coaching the Newton Rams. Fourteen of those years were spent as head coach. -photo by Anthony Banks

Nothing lasts forever. Well, except the truth that nothing lasts forever. 

Although, when you think about Newton boys basketball, you’re tempted to entertain an exception to that rule. That’s because of one man who’s name has been linked to the Newton Rams basketball program for over two decades. 

That name is Rick Rasmussen. 

Rasmussen has been pacing the Newton sidelines in some capacity for 21 seasons — 14 of them as one of Georgia’s most winningest, consistent active coaches. The other four years he spent as the understudy of Ron Bradley, thee all-time winningest high school basketball coaches in the state, and one of the winningest prep hoops coaches in the nation. 

Rasmussen told his team Tuesday morning that this last season he spent coaching the Rams would indeed be his last. He accepted the head coaching job at North Oconee County where he’ll be closer to family and take on the challenge of trying to turn a somewhat moribund program at best into the kind of hoops haven that anyone who’s closely followed Georgia high school basketball will testify that Newton has continued to be. 

Notice, I didn’t say Newton “became” such, because Newton has been that for a long time. As much as football is king in Georgia, many Newton County/Covington citizens will rush to tell you that Newton and Covington is basketball territory and mostly because of the history and legacy of Newton Rams basketball. 

I remember when I first showed up on this scene close to three years ago, I quickly realized Rasmussen was going to be one of the coaches I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to pull information out of. And the journalist in me appreciated that for obvious reasons.

But I also thought it pretty cool to see someone who’d been where he’d been for as long as he had to take that kind of pride in coaching the high school game. 

When I started here, football season was about three or four weeks from being over and basketball holiday tournaments were on the horizon. Rasmussen never minded talking about his program, his players or his pride in what he’d accomplished here. 

Some may call it boastfulness, but I get it. In an era where coaches and players from the professional ranks down to prep ball seem to be content playing musical chairs, it would be hard not to feel good about a 14-year ride that 308 wins, six region tournaments and multiple deep runs into the state tournament in the state’s ultra-competitive largest class.

For all the success — including leading a program that put 43 athletes in college, 15 of them playing Division I ball —  one thing, a state championship, has eluded his grasp. But Rasmussen doesn’t speak as one regretful of the things — or thing — that got away. As he departs, he chooses to focus on the things that will always mean more than any championship trophy or piece of hardware. 

Things like relationships, such as the ones he said he’s built with this 2019 class.

“This class of 2019 is very special to me,” Rasmussen said. “I am thankful to have finished it all with them. I am honored they were my last graduating class, and I can’t wait to follow them in college.” 

That class consists of Division I commits Tre Clark (VCU) and Tyrease Brown (Fort Valley State) along with Armani Harris who has been pursued by several D-1 schools. Rasmussen said he plans to stay close to see those guys off the right way. 

“I’m not quitting on anyone,” he said. 

The next hire for Newton basketball will be intriguing. From all accounts, it looks like it could be a deal where athletic director Vincent Byams looks outside of the program to find the next person for the job. And it’ll be a big job, make no mistake about it. Rasmussen’s success coming on the heels of Bradley and his 500 career wins at Newton, has made the Newton job one of the more major destinations in state side high school hoops. 

And while region reclassification is coming after next school year, in the immediate context, Newton will want a coach who can help groom talent to compete with the likes of Grayson, Shiloh and South Gwinnett in an ever-improving Region 8-AAAAAAA. 

But that’s talk for another day. For now, it is only right to pay homage to what Rasmussen has done here, and to wish him well in his future journey. Nothing lasts forever, but also when you’ve been so etched into a community for as long as he has been, I don’t think the etch marks of his name will ever fade. Not from Newton basketball lore and not from Rasmussen’s mind. 

“I’m so proud of all our Newton players and all that they’ve done for Newton basketball,” he said. “All our former players and assistant coaches and everyone who was a part of our success, we could not have accomplished all we did without them. I will always be a Ram and will be rooting for the guys to keep it going.”

I can't think of many people in the Newton County area who wouldn't be willing to say the same thing about the coach. If you live long enough, all things will ultimately come to an end, no matter how successful, no matter how enjoyable. But the impact and memories linger. In that sense, a piece of Rasmussen will always remain in Newton County. 

Well done, Coach Ras. We'll be rooting for you too.