On Monday night, April 6, 2015, Whitworth lost a dear friend and key contributor. While former athletic director Aaron Leetch’s stint at Whitworth lasted only two short years, the impact of last week’s tragedy still hits closer to home than imaginable.
Leetch was serving as deputy athletic director for external relations at Illinois State University; he and six others were on a small private plane returning home late on the night of the 6th from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game in Indianapolis. The plane took a wrong turn, purportedly to avoid poor weather, when it crashed near Normal, Illinois, killing all seven passengers.
I remember the first time I met Leetch. I had stumbled into a Whitworthian staff meeting a couple weeks beforehand thinking I was attending an informational session and left with a deadline to get my first story in by Saturday night. I had never interviewed anyone nor written a journalistic piece of writing. I was bewildered, overwhelmed and at that time, hated journalism.
In just my second week on the job, my sports editor assigned me to write a feature on Whitworth’s new athletic director, Aaron Leetch.
Leetch greeted me in his freshly unpacked office and came out from around his desk to sit next to me during the whole interview. As I nervously fidgeted with my iPod and asked if I could record our conversation, he replied with a calm and welcoming, “of course.” I clumsily flipped from page to page in my notebook trying to remember each of my pre-scripted questions while also trying to copiously take notes. Leetch loved to talk and did so enthusiastically.
His enthusiasm was the very thing that made the interview so successful. Over the course of around 35 minutes—time that few university athletic directors at whatever level will give to a novice reporter, to whom 35 minutes feels like an eternity—Leetch had not only answered all of my questions thoroughly but had also engaged me in conversation.
He assured me that we were rookies together. His passion oozed out of him; it caused me to dream of one day having his job. He was sure to point out the importance of his family, his ultimate pride and joy; he had a wife and two daughters, whose photographs were framed and displayed in his otherwise scarce, new office. He offered to help me in any way he could in my years at Whitworth and I knew he meant it.
Leetch took the initial fear out of journalistic writing for me. I stuck with my developing new skill and gained confidence after my time with him; it’s for this very reason I write this now. This week I dug through four years worth of notes and writing and pulled up the story I had written on Leetch, published Sept. 28, 2011.
While I never knew the man well, I read it and deemed it timelessly Aaron. It was my desire to see at least this excerpt resurfaced as a tribute to Leetch’s commitment to this university. Though he moved on from Whitworth by 2013, the same spirit is still felt.
I would hope it would be the desire of our community to deem Aaron Leetch, while we didn’t know him long, forever a Pirate. Here’s to the man who truly gave it everything he had.
Contact Sena Hughes at