(Illustration by John Jay Cabuay)
Good sport

Angie Torain helps undergrads balance academics and athletics.

From her three-sport days in high school to balancing track and field with basketball at DePauw University, Angie Torain understands what it means to be both athlete and student. As UChicago’s director of athletics and recreation, helping students master that same balance is her full-time job. Torain came to UChicago in 2021 from the University of Notre Dame, where she served as senior associate athletics director of culture, diversity, and engagement. Since she became athletics director at UChicago, the Maroons have brought home four conference championships and two national titles. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Did you always know you wanted to be an athletics director?

I went to college planning to pursue a degree in education and become a middle school teacher, but once I graduated, I decided to go to law school [at Indiana University Bloomington], thinking I might become a sports agent or work at a sports and entertainment law firm.

I ended up falling into collegiate athletics through a job in NCAA compliance. If you think about compliance, it’s writing, interpreting, and applying rules, which definitely correlates with my legal background. Since my first job in collegiate athletics, I never looked back.

What does a normal day look like for you?

There’s no normal day. However, most of the time, I’m here in my office working on budgets, NCAA matters, and facility issues, or connecting with a campus partner, staff member, or coach. I also spend my days cheering on our wonderful athletes. If our athletes are competing on campus, I try to be there to support them.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love to watch our athletes compete and meet the goals they set, either as a team or as individuals. It’s also great to see the pride they take in being athletes and students at the University of Chicago—the relationship building that I get to do with them is probably my favorite part.

What makes the Division III experience different for students and administrators?

Division III focuses on the student-athlete experience being the same as that of their peers and integrated into the academic experience. For example, our seasons end earlier than Division I and Division II. Division III athletes have more opportunities to do internships and study abroad because of the shortened seasons.

Resources are different too. Everyone pitches in and helps in different areas. It’s known across the division that aside from coaching, you might have an additional duty such as being the compliance coordinator, event manager, or a faculty member.

Staffing is different, rules are different, but I don’t think the athletes are different. They all want to do well academically and compete at a high level.

Why did you want to work at a school like UChicago?

I knew that if I was going to be an athletics director, I wanted to be at an institution where the athletes were there for the academics, with sports as an added bonus—basically, a place where the athletes didn’t feel like they had to choose between the two.

This year the UChicago athletics department had two women in positions typically held by men. How does it feel to be a female leader, and a Black female leader, in a very public role?

Hopefully I show other women that it is possible for them to lead in places where women are not normally seen—which reminds me of Nelson Mandela’s quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

I feel blessed to be in this role, but more than anything, I hope that it opens doors, so that in the future, other women can step into these roles without questions. I hope it encourages women to stay in athletics, especially on the coaching side. Young girls and boys need to see more women and women of color as coaches and administrators.

What are you looking forward to most as you spend more time here?

I look forward to us winning more championships!