Days into his first semester at Macalester, new Athletic Director Donnie Brooks found himself in the midst of record cold. “I can confirm that last week was the coldest I have ever been,” Brooks said. Still, it has not changed his experience thus far.
“I often say to folks, ‘thank you for your warm welcome,’ and I think the people are extremely warm here,” Brooks said. This warmth has helped settle Brooks into his new role within the Macalester athletic department.
Brooks began his athletic career at Division III Springfield College, recruiting himself onto the football team his first year. Working his way up the depth chart, he saw firsthand the kind of passion that Division III athletics embody.
“As Division III athletes, we’re doing this because we love the game,” Brooks noted. This passion would play a continual and decisive role in the years to come.
Soon, Brooks had the chance to begin working in administration. As a graduate student, he served as the athletic director for a high school, in addition to working as a graduate assistant coach with Springfield College football. As an administrator for the first time, Brooks had a realization. “I knew the position existed, but I thought I wanted to coach and teach,” he said. “When I got the
opportunity to serve as a high school athletic director, I saw that my skill set, as both a person who enjoyed both the business side of sports and the personal development side of sports, helped me know right away that administration was a great opportunity.”
After working in athletic administration at Division III Williams College for five years, Brooks took a job at Dartmouth College, a Division I institution. This experience helped him understand just what he wanted out of his job.
“Seeing Division I and what it was like affirmed that Division III was for me,” Brooks said. “The last pure level of athletics, where folks are truly playing for the passion, and for the love of the game, is Division III.” This passion guided him to the position of athletic director at Division III Millsaps College in 2016, where he spent two years until seeing the opening for Macalester this past year. The decision to come here seemed like a natural one for Brooks.
“You make a family decision when you decide to pick up and move … Minnesota was always a place we thought we could go because of Macalester,” he said. “My best friends’ parents growing up went to Macalester, I respected them, and they were some of the smartest people I knew, so I always respected Macalester.”
When the position of athletic director opened up at Macalester, Brooks immediately knew it was a job he wanted to be involved with. What made the job approachable from a career standpoint was equally simple, “I think the perfect fit for me is working with smart students who aspire to be really good at a lot of different things,” Brooks said. In the end, it was something else that cinched it for him: “Honestly, I think it was the potential that drew me … There’s tremendous upside here.”
Now that he’s arrived, Brooks has a few long-term goals he is looking to pursue. These include maintaining and improving alumni connections to current student-athletes and encouraging athlete participation and responsibility in the Macalester community. Brooks took note of examples such as that of football player Ethan Levin ’20, who has been leading a local initiative to teach high school athletes about masculinity and sexual violence awareness and prevention. “There is a responsibility to play a role in critical issues on our campus,” Brooks said.
Still, he recognizes that Macalester already has a healthy relationship with the surrounding community. “People think really positively of our institution,” he noted. For Brooks, this is an opportunity to continue the behavior that athletes like Levin already embody. “You can leverage that as a platform to do good in the community and the world,” he said. Moreover, Brooks wants this to go hand-in-hand with competitive success. If the school can continue upholding itself in the community, and win as well, then that potential Brooks sees may be achieved. Some may be left wondering just how Brooks expects the wins to come. For this, he offered a simple solution: “We need more drip.” What is drip, exactly? “It’s swag. You feel good about yourself. You came through dripping,” Brooks said. He is looking to find ways to implement this into the athletes image on campus, encouraging confidence and team spirit. “I want [them] to feel good about [them]selves … I want [them] to create a brand that is nationally known, not just for what we do on the court and the field, but what we do in the classroom and the community as well.”