Emotionally-charged during games, Whitworth athletic director ai - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Emotionally-charged during games, Whitworth athletic director aims to make a difference

Win or lose, Whitworth athletic director Aaron Leetch believes there's something to learn. Win or lose, Whitworth athletic director Aaron Leetch believes there's something to learn.

The Fieldhouse was packed on Saturday night, and the loud cheers of the Whitworth crowd reverberated off the rounded roof and hit the floor with a deafening crash.

The crowd stood together, it screamed together, it danced together, it celebrated together and it mourned together when the scoreboard flashed the final score --  a 71-63 Pirates loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor in the men's basketball D-III Sweet 16.

Aaron Leetch sat watching, arguably more emotionally dependent on the game than anyone else in the building.

There was one difference. Leetch sat alone.

Sitting high above the Whitworth basket -- on a stage that holds the main scoreboard, some loose wire, a music stand and a pile of pink cloth, among other random trinkets -- Leetch watched the game. He sat on the edge of a folding table, feet dangling off the side, a few inches from the unfinished wooden floor.

This is where the Whitworth athletic director watches many games. A chest-high railing is the only thing preventing him from jumping the 20-plus feet to the court during emotionally-charged moments.

At tipoff, Leetch is all nerves as he sits on the folding table with one hand clutching his phone and the other on his right leg, shoulders slumped forward with a concentrated stare on the court.

As the game progresses, Leetch will have slapped, grabbed and shook the railing. As the game tightened heading into halftime and Whitworth is called for a kick-ball, he grabs both knees to his chest and clutches tightly.

When asked if he's competitive, Leetch just chuckles: "I beat my four-year-old daughter in checkers," he says.

Leetch wants to win, he wants his Whitworth teams to win , but it's so much more than wins and losses.

"True success is much deeper than [winning]," he said, mentioning the importance of earning a degree, growing as people and being servants.

But there are values one can learn from an organized sport, from working to win the task at hand. There are lessons in winning, Leetch said.

"Sometimes it's losing because you learn so much from that," he adds, though, a few minutes later.

After Saturday's loss, it will have to be defeat that the Pirates will have to learn from. It was a disappointing finish after Whitworth stormed back late in the second half to take a four-point lead. At one point during the comeback, Leetch's feet repeatedly kicked  into the chest-high, thin wooden wall on the edge of the elevated stage.

"I'm surprised I haven't kicked a hole in this yet," Leetch said.

When the final buzzer sounded and Whitworth trudged off the court sullenly and in a single-file line, Leetch wasn't seething alone behind the scoreboard. He had made his way to the court sometime before the game ended and patted each player on the back as they walked past him.

"Ultimately, I want to make a difference in people's lives, and young people's lives, it just happens sports is a platform," Leetch said.

He stayed after most of the fans had filed out of the Whitworth Fieldhouse, grabbing the team's three seniors after they fulfilled their media obligations and gave them each a hug.

And presumably, he then did what he intends to do.