Sports are a beautiful thing. It has the power to unite people from all aspects of life, no matter what differences there may be. Sports teach us how to work together as a team, how to work towards success, how to handle defeat and overcome low moments. Sports have positively impacted millions of lives across the world, one of which being Associate Athletic Director at Slippery Rock University, Torry Rollins.
Comparing the rigors of playing a sport to everyday life, Rollins keeps a classic saying from one of his high school coaches in the back of his mind.
“Sports are a microcosm of life,” Rollins said. “What you do in sports, you are going to eventually do in life. There can be frustrations, happy times, bad times and highs and lows. Sports help you prepare for those life experiences.”
Hired in April 2012, Rollins’ experiences and lessons from sports helped lead him, his wife Antoinette and his two children, Devon and Dominique, to the small, rural town of Slippery Rock. But way before he arrived at the land of The Green and White, Rollins’ passion for athletics helped to obtain a wide variety of skills and experiences.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, one of Rollins’ first and strongest passions in life were playing sports, namely basketball.
“Growing up like a typical kid, I always thought I was going to be a professional [athlete],” Rollins said as he cracked a smile. “I had a basketball hoop in my backyard where we all used to play a lot and I just ended up falling in love with the game of basketball.”
Rollins went on to explain how playing sports on a regular basis as a kid helped to shape his life in multiple aspects throughout his childhood and into college.
“Growing up, I played all the sports I could,” Rollins said. “It wasn’t even just for the competitive aspect, but socially as well. Being able to be with your friends, challenge each other and have a good time, [basketball] really helped me navigate through college; I used it as one of the tools to get me where I’m at today.”
After graduating from high school, Rollins admitted that there was no clear path as to what was next for him. After working a summer job at a shoe store nearby his home, the upcoming graduate went to his manager for some guidance and soon thereafter, a plan was in place.
“The manager of the shoe store I used to work at during the summers was a graduate from Edinboro and he played basketball there, that was my connection,” Rollins said. “He played with the current assistant coach at the time. He gave the coach a call who came out and talked to me, evaluated me and that’s how I got to Edinboro.”
A few months later in fall of 1988, Rollins began his pursuit of a degree in accounting at Edinboro University. After finishing his undergrad and collegiate career as a Fighting Scot, it was apparent to Rollins that athletics were going to be something that would always be a part of his identity, something that he truly loved and was passionate about.
During Rollins’ athletic career at Edinboro, he spoke about how the Fighting Scots and The Rock had a bit of a rivalry, with Slippery Rock boasting one of the top Division II basketball teams in the nation.
“When I first started playing in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Slippery Rock was very prominent in men’s basketball,” Rollins said. “They had a guy named Myron Brown who ended up going to the NBA, so Slippery Rock was on the map. At one point they were fourth in the country in Division II and were knocking off Division I teams.”
After a successful collegiate career and an intense rivalry with SRU, Rollins chose to stay at his alma mater and pursue a Master of Arts degree in communication studies, while staying involved with Edinboro’s basketball programs, working as a graduate assistant for the men’s team and color commentator for both teams.
Pursuing a graduate degree, working as a color commentator and a graduate assistant coach for two years helped Rollins to conceptualize his career path in life, something that all leads back to his lifelong love of basketball.
“It was awesome,” Rollins said. “Sports in general and in my case, basketball allowed me to have those great experiences in life. If I hadn’t played basketball, I wouldn’t have had the ability or the resources to become a graduate assistant coach which led to more opportunities down the line.”
After completing his Master of Arts at Edinboro and earning an MBA at Cleveland State University in 2002, Rollins accepted a position as assistant head coach for Lakeland Community College in 2003 in Kitland, Ohio and worked in Cuyahoga County in as a fiscal officer, budgeting $65 million across 17 departments. During his tenure with Lakeland, Rollins also worked as the recruiting coordinator and helped lead the team to an impressive .766-win percentage in his final two seasons in 2006 and 2007.
It was during this time period that Rollins would meet his future wife, Antoinette, who has been extremely supportive of his professional pursuits.
“She started a manager training program at National City Bank in Cleveland and a few years later, PNC bought National City, so the new job that she worked allowed her to travel and be flexible,” Rollins said. “She was very supportive of us moving around and I am thankful for the way that it all worked out, you couldn’t script it in a better way.”
With several new responsibilities popping up in Rollins’ life, Rollins made the tough decision to temporarily step away from the game of basketball and combine his undergraduate degree and Master of Arts in communication studies for one, singular job. While keeping his job in Cuyahoga, Rollins began the process of getting into the business of athletic administration.
“I started thinking about transitioning to athletic administration because I still wanted to stay close to [basketball], close to athletics,” Rollins said. “When I started researching how I could use my experiences and education, I started noticing the same result popping up. Assistant Athletic Director for athletics, assistant athletic director for finance, assistant athletic director for business affairs, it was a way for me to use my undergrad degree, graduate degree and MBA.”
Although Rollins found the next career area he wanted to get into, the process of breaking into the profession was one of the most challenging parts of his life.
“It was five years of sending out resumes over and over again,” Rollins said. “When I first got my breakthrough at Southeast Missouri State University. I applied for Assistant Athletic Director for Business Affairs three different times,” Rollins said.
Before finally getting hired by Southeast Missouri State, Rollins described that the most frustrating part about his five-year application process was never getting any feedback from employers when he was rejected for a job.
“I was wondering what I needed to do, what I needed to do better. I was just hoping for some type of feedback,” Rollins said. “Without the feedback, it was hard to understand why, but as they say, the third time is the charm, so I was able to get my feet wet in athletic administration.”
After Rollins weathered the storm, he made sure to make the most of his opportunity. He managed an $8 million athletics budget for 15 NCAA Division I programs, including FCS football at Southeast Missouri State. Rollins would spend nearly five years at Southeast Missouri State, before moving back closer to home to settle down and be closer to family.
“My wife was able to transfer to a PNC bank in St. Louis which was about two hours north of where Southeast Missouri was and after a while it was time to move on,” Rollins said. “My wife wanted to be closer to home, she supported me in all of my moves, so now it was my time to do the same for her.”
As Rollins searched for new jobs, an opportunity arose at an old rival of his, Slippery Rock University. With SRU located 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh and just an hour and 45 minutes away from Cleveland, Rollins quickly landed upon The Rock to start the next chapter of his career.
“It was perfect timing for me and my family. I was given this opportunity thanks to Mr. Lueken,” Rollins said.
Hired in 2012, Rollins has been a stalwart for athletic administration since then. Wrapping up his eighth year at the university in just over a month, Rollins had no shortage of great things to say about his time at SRU.
“As a university, being able to stabilize our enrollment and maintain great academic standards makes Slippery Rock a great place to be,” Rollins said. “Slippery Rock is in a good place and we’ve been having some great success in athletics.”
Besides to contributing to the success of Slippery Rock’s athletics, Rollins has also excelled in continuing to promote diversity and represent black students and faculty on campus. He is the current president of SRU’s chapter of the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) – a 25-member organization that provides recommendations to administration concerning issues affecting black administrators, faculty, staff and students.
“Our ultimate goal is to get more African American staff, faculty and students here and our initiative is to retain them,” Rollins said. “This can be difficult, but we are trying to, as we speak, touch base with Dr. Behre, to share our concerns and how we can achieve that goal. That’s one of his goals, to diversify the campus. So, we’re trying to figure out how we can help him with that.”
Although Rollins will be transitioning from his role of president after the conclusion of the spring semester, he still plans to be heavily involved to ensure that BFSA moves towards its goals and ensures the best experience for Slippery Rock’s black faculty, staff and students.
As for himself, Rollins continues to hold himself to a high standard with aspirations to eventually advance in his career.
“I want to continue to be the best I can be within this role,” Rollins said. “There may be some other opportunities down the line, to move upward within this position here at Slippery Rock so I’ll look into that a little bit. I would like to have that experience of being an athletic director and would want that to be here if possible, because of the stability and sustainability that we have here.”
With a plethora of experiences and skills, there is no doubt Rollins will continue to be successful in his professional pursuits.
From a kid from Cleveland shooting hoops in his backyard to Associate Athletic Director at Slippery Rock University, Rollins is a testament to the impact that sports can have on someone, no matter what length of time may be. It can last for a minute, a day, or in Rollins’ case, an entire lifetime.