COVINGTON, Ga. — Coach to a few. Coworker to some. Teacher to most. Soon to be missed by all.
The Newton High School family is entering uncharted territory as it prepares to send off their beloved teacher and coach, Rick Rasmussen, who announced Tuesday morning that he will be walking away from Newton at year’s end to take the head basketball coaching job at North Oconee High in Bogart, Georgia.
No one can really imagine a Newton High School environment without “Coach Ras,” largely because no one else has been there longer. No office aid, teacher, coach or even administrator has surpassed Ras’s 21 years at NHS.
Most of the state knows him as Newton High School’s top tier head boys basketball coach of 14 years where he’s won over 300 games, was named 2016 Georgia Class AAAAAA Coach of the Year, won five region Coach of the Year awards, and has been to the Elite Eight and Final Four multiple times in Georgia’s highest classification, not to mention and the seven region champions and 43 players — 15 of them Division I — he’s helped send off to play college basketball.
However, he does much more at Newton than mold D-1 athletes.
“Coach Ras is mostly known for coaching, but honestly he’s one of the best English teachers I’ve had. He really challenged me this year,” senior Jamya Williams said. “He gave us assignments that he knew would be difficult for us to understand and that are so obscure that there was no way out of analyzing them ourselves. But that forced us to do it, and we learned because of it.”
Senior Nala McCamy agrees, calling him a “persistent force” in his teaching style.
“Ras really pushes his students. He assigns poems and books that he knows are challenging,” McCamy said. “His class creates college-ready analyzers.”
During his years as a teacher, Rasmussen has taught a few different English courses. He has developed quite the reputation as a tough teacher who assigns copious amounts of work in order to prep students for college. He’s often said he prides himself on developing high school minds into college thinkers, and when you check his record with his students, you’ll see that the proof is in the pudding.
“One of the most challenging but preparatory novels we read was Charles Dickens’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ McCamy said. “Ras kept his usual chapter-a-day rule and was consistent with the quizzes and checking of notes. He didn’t let up on his usual rigor during this book, despite the fact that we had to chase the plot. It was hard to follow but he was with us every step of the way.”
Senior, and Newton valedictorian Joy Sharp testifies of the intense, yet helpful rigor found in Rasmussen’s classroom
“Ras was very consistent when it came to making sure we were ready for college and making sure we had help during the application process,” Sharp said. “He always offered up his time to help us no matter what we needed and that’s more than I can say for most teachers.
“I never even had to ask. He came to me,” Sharp added. “He kept up with my applications and made sure I was punctual and my essays and applications were error free. It was a big help, and his constant updates helped me stay on top of things.”
Before getting to know him as a teacher, some students said they had a little anxiety upon the thought of Rasmussen as a teacher. This, of course, coming before entering his classroom for the first time.
However, once students actually took his class, their perception of him changed, and they realized that while the class is challenging, students only feared him before they took the class because of rumors of his heavy course load.
“Coach Ras definitely wasn’t anything like I’d heard he would be,” said senior Lylia Young. “Most students referred to him as a sort of tyrant. But in reality, he softens his warpath with jokes and lighthearted discussions. He’s a fantastic teacher, and really did prepare me to handle college-level work, and isn’t that the point of (Advanced Placement)?”
After experiencing life in Rasmussen’s classroom, students acknowledged the challenge is exactly what they needed to get them ready for the college classroom.
“Coach Ras is a very firm teacher,” Sharp said. “He helped me set goals for myself and was very involved in me capitalizing on my potential in high school [valedictorian] and college [testing out of classes]. Even if it meant heckling me to take his AP test,” Sharp added with a laugh.
Senior Jalina Green said she’s able to testify to Rasmussen’s character, both as a teacher and an athletic coach.
“Coach Ras is a unique individual,” Green said. "I will never forget his corny jokes and his caring nature.I was lucky enough to have him as both a golf coach and teacher, and it isn’t an experience I would trade for anything.”
Rasmussen holds his students by a very strict standard and has a specific antipathy for millennial students’ habit of procrastinating — a habit he often says students cannot bring with them to college.
“One thing that has been consistent the entire year is Ras scolding us for procrastinating,” senior Aiyanna Chavez said. “On the first day, he warned us against procrastinating on his class work. By mid-year, he said we had gone ‘pro’ in procrastination.
“He has always been on our case about getting work done and getting it done on time or early. Extra points were offered for completing assignments early and he usually gave us strategies of how to get the work done with decent timing.” Chavez added.
It is no surprise that Rasmussen strongly advises his students to overcome procrastination considering he juggles coaching basketball, golf, teaching AP class and mentoring to his players and students.
“Ras was a great coach but he didn’t just coach me during the golf season,”sophomore golf prodigy Ally Black said. “During the summer he would always stay in contact and check on me to see what I had going on, on and off of the field. He would play games with me or help me in any way that he could.
“Him leaving is one of those things that I never expected. I thought he would be here to coach me all four years after getting me this far. But, I am happy for him and hopes he goes far with the opportunities in his hands.”
Even members of the Newton High teaching faculty and staff have shared heartfelt words and memories of the soon-departing teacher-coach.
“Coach Ras has always been a team player,” English teacher Lisa Ames said. “I met him my first year (at Newton) and he always carried himself in a very professional and friendly way.
“When I was department chair I had questions and he was always so willing to jump in and help me out,” Ames explained. “For example, when I had to farm kids out he never fought me on it. He is a real team player. And when you’re in charge of the entire department it’s nice to have someone you know you can rely on.”
Indeed, Rasmussen’s legacy at Newton is not limited to the number of basketball games or championships he’s won, or how many of his students passed the AP test at the end of his class. His legacy lies within the hearts of his students and coworkers that he impacted, and of that, the NHS family has spoken for itself.
And though sometimes he wasn’t the student’s favorite person in the world, over the years Rasmussen has proven himself as a coach, teacher, mentor, supporter and friend to the students and staff at Newton.
As he moves on to continue his career at North Oconee High School, the time has come for a bittersweet goodbye that stretches 3,000 voices wide.
Perhaps Newton Principal, Dr. Shannon Buff said it best, and speaks for the entire Newton family, when she thanked him for his work and impact while reminding both him and the entire school community that, “Once a Ram, always a Ram.”