Since arriving on the Kingston campus in July 2007 as the 11th Director of Athletics in University of Rhode Island history, Thorr Bjorn has worked tirelessly to create and sustain a vision and championship culture for the school’s athletics department.
"We want to be champions in the three most important areas: in competition, in the classroom, and in the community," Bjorn said. "Our athletics department is wholly committed to making the necessary changes in order to achieve a true winning attitude."
At the core of his championship culture, Bjorn - a native of Salem, Conn. - has made it a priority that all 400 current URI student-athletes – plus the thousands of former student-athletes and alumni throughout the world – are united as one Rhody Athletics family. From his active Twitter account, you will see Bjorn’s use of the hashtag #RamFam to celebrate the many successes and achievements of URI student-athletes throughout the year.
This past academic year, three Rhode Island teams won Atlantic 10 Championships - baseball, women’s rowing, and men’s indoor track & field. Baseball earned its first-ever win at the NCAA Regionals, downing regional No. 1 seed and sixth-ranked South Carolina, 5-4. The men’s track & field program has dominated the A-10, winning nine of the last 16 indoor and outdoor titles combined. The rowing team has won five conference crowns and have made two trips to the NCAA Championship (2013, 2016). The men's track & field program has dominated the conference championships, winning seven of the last 12 indoor and outdoor titles combined.
In June, 2016, Bjorn was selected as a 2015-16 Under Armour AD of the Year award winner by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA). The AD of the Year award spans seven divisions (NCAA FBS, FCS, Division I-AAA, II, III, NAIA/Other Four-Year Institutions and Junior College/Community Colleges). Bjorn was selected as one of four AD’s from the Football Championship Series division.
Bjorn's championship culture is also rooted in a philosophy in which everyone in the Rhode Island Athletics Department is a fundraiser and marketer.
"We need to be tireless in our efforts to bring in external dollars - not just to sustain, but rather to grow all of our programs," Bjorn explained. "As we go out into the community, we have the opportunity to 'sell' URI and our mission to our current and future donors, sponsors and ticket buyers. We have to continue to move forward and become increasingly creative in how we accomplish our goals."
Over $15 million dollars have been raised through external and internal resources during Bjorn’s tenure, aimed at facility and programmatic enhancements. A keystone of those enhancements opened its doors to the public in April, 2014 as the Ryan Family Student-Athlete came online. Through Bjorn’s vision and drive, the $5 million facility - originally designated as the Student-Athlete Development Center (SADC) - came to fruition. The RFSAC includes the Eleanor Carlson Strength & Conditioning Center, the Anthony J. Rose Athletic Training Room & Sports Medicine Center, the Katie DeCubellis Memorial Foundation Student-Athlete Athletic Commons & Advising Center, and the Winter Family Foundation & Wicks Family Champions Gallery.
Over the past three years under Bjorn’s guidance, the Thomas M. Ryan Center received major technological upgrades and a new playing surface. Already one of the top basketball facilities in the Northeast, the game day atmosphere at the Ryan Center has been greatly enhanced with new main and auxiliary LED video boards as well as an LED ribbon wrap throughout the arena bowl.
Rhode Island’s external revenue efforts have reached unprecedented heights under Bjorn. He rebuilt and reenergized the business development and corporate partnership office. In 2013, he orchestrated the partnership between URI and Nelligan Sports. The following year, after industry leader Learfield Sports acquired NSM in 2014, Bjorn ushered in Rhody Sports Properties - the dedicated corporate sales and athletics sponsorship unit through Learfield Sports.
In total, Bjorn has been directly responsible for securing more than $15 million from external and internal sources for facility enhancements. These projects include over $500,000 for renovations to the men’s and women’s basketball office suites, $300,000 for the men’s basketball locker room, $500,000 for construction of eight new varsity tennis courts, $300,000 for tennis pavilion, $500,000 for new indoor batting barn used by baseball and softball, $1 million for Meade Stadium bleachers and press box renovation, $1.3 million for new baseball playing surface (FieldTurf), $1 million of resurfacing indoor track with state-of-the-art Mondo surface, soccer practice facility, $200,000 to renovate volleyball and women’s soccer locker rooms.
He helped cultivate the first-ever $1 million dollar gift in Rhody athletics history in November, 2007. That gift helped to transform Bill Beck Field - home of the highly successful URI baseball program - into one of the top facilities in the Northeast. Upgrades included a new synthetic surface installed in the infield, a sod and sprinkler system in the outfield, and an indoor training facility that can be used by the baseball and softball teams.
In the classroom, Rhode Island student-athletes set a new standard of excellence in 2015-16. The 2016 spring semester was the athletics department’s best on record, with 42% (185 total) of URI student-athletes earning Dean’s List honors. The previous semester Dean’s List record was 37%. Additionally, the cumulative grade-point average for the athletics department reached the 3.0 mark for the first time on record.
Many of the Rams' athletic programs and student-athletes have made an impact in the community. Many participated in the annual Reading Week promotion - a department-wide venture which places student-athletes and coaches in local elementary schools to read and interact with the students. The men’s basketball team took part in several community ventures, including speaking to high-risk middle school students in Providence and volunteering at the Jonnycake Center in Wakefield. Rhody’s volleyball team has worked with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter over the past four years, while the football program’s annual bone marrow drive has led to 12 individuals associated with the University of Rhode Island making a donation to help save the lives of leukemia patients. Additionally, URI Athletics continues to sponsor its annual "Pink Out" game - the first-ever breast cancer awareness and charity event associated with an NCAA Division I men’s basketball game.
On the national level, Bjorn is currently the 1st Vice President for the FCS Athletic Director Association and was recently named to the NACDA Executive Committee. He served as chairman of the Atlantic 10 scheduling policy committee in 2009. On the national level he sat on the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Rowing Committee from 2009-2013. He currently sits on nine separate committees: NCAA Division I Legislative Council, the Atlantic 10 Conference Realignment Committee, the FCS Athletic Directors Association-Executive Committee, Mentor to RisingAD’s, the Atlantic 10 Revenue Distribution Subcommittee, the Atlantic 10 Television Committee, the Atlantic 10 Membership Committee, the Atlantic 10 administrative committee and the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Committee, where he was the Co-Chair.
Bjorn came to Kingston after spending 15 years at his alma mater - the University of Massachusetts - in a variety of athletic administrative roles. At the time of his hire, Bjorn had entered his fourth year as the senior associate athletic director at UMass, serving as the day-to-day sport supervisor for football and ice hockey, while also overseeing the men's and women's lacrosse programs. He directly supervised the UMass athletic marketing staff, corporate sales - including the UMass Radio Network, coaches shows and signage - and ticket operations. Bjorn also served as liaison between the athletic department and Global Spectrum - the management company for the William D. Mullins Center, home of UMass basketball and hockey.
He played an integral role in UMass' department-wide apparel deal with adidas, oversaw all aspects of the funding and installation of a multi-million dollar video scoreboard system in the Mullins Center, and helped to secure funding sources for a new artificial surface at Alumni Stadium - home of the nationally-ranked Minutemen football program.
From Sept. 2003-Feb. 2004, Bjorn was the interim athletic director at UMass. In that role, he oversaw all the department, including supervising a senior administrative staff of 10 associate and assistant athletic directors, as well as the head football, men's basketball, and men's ice hockey. During his tenure, he negotiated a contract extension with Don "Toot" Cahoon, head men's ice hockey coach, and was the athletic department liaison in a viability study on elevating to Division I-A (now "BCS") football status.
After a three-year stint as the director of regional sales and marketing for Resorts Sports Network in Portland, Maine, Bjorn returned to UMass in April of 2003 as the Associate AD/External Affairs. At RSN - a company which provides cable systems with programming at ski resorts - he was personally accountable for $1 million in television and web advertising revenue. In his role as Associate AD, Bjorn was responsible for soliciting all radio and television advertising and corporate sponsorship dollars for the athletic department, Mullins Center, and UMass Magazine - a total exceeding $1 million dollars. Under his watch, annual sponsorship revenue increased by over 135 percent.
Bjorn also directed the department's retail merchandise program, coordinated advertising campaigns and directed the ticket office. He also established "MinuteFan Park," an interactive fan experience at Alumni Stadium. After graduating from UMass and spending six months as an intern in the business office at the University of Connecticut, he returned to his alma mater as assistant athletic director for tickets and game operations in December of 1990, a position he held until being promoted in 1996.
A three-year letterwinner for the Minutemen football program, he earned his bachelor's degree in sports management from UMass in 1990, following with a master's degree in higher education from his alma mater in 1995. He and his wife Cyndy have three daughters: twins Stephanie and Robyn, who are sophomores at URI, and Rachael.