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Morgridge Strength & Conditioning Lab: “Powerful in so many ways.”

Plymouth State has long and rich traditions in both academics and athletics, and the future looks even brighter given continued investments. The most recent addition to regular facilities upgrades came at the start of this academic year, when the University officially dedicated the new Morgridge Strength & Performance Lab.

PSU alumni in the strength and performance fields have already established themselves at the highest echelon of sport, with connections reaching from the National Football League to major NCAA Division I programs, and that was before the opening of the new 16,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility. The Morgridge Strength and Performance Lab is more than 10 times the size of the former 1,500-square-foot Vailas Performance Center on campus and will benefit the entire campus community.

The $4 million project to transform the old field house building into a state-of-the-art strength and performance lab is the final piece completing PSU’s Human Performance Center.

The vision for the future of strength and conditioning at Plymouth State started in February of 2016. Armed with significant experience in the human performance field, Nick Vailas ’76 and Mike Gittleson ’77, both PSU Athletics Hall of Fame inductees, met to discuss their ideas on how to bring national prominence to Plymouth State’s program.

Vailas had made a career of investing in healthcare, which included the opening of the Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center in 1993. Gittleson, who lettered in football, wrestling, and track, had spent 30 seasons as the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of Michigan’s football program. The duo initially scratched out their concepts on a napkin, and eventually brought the idea to President Birx.

“Nick and Mike had a vision to improve Plymouth’s academic excellence, to teach teachers and educate educators,” said Director of Advancement John Scheinman ’19P, ’22G at the dedication ceremony.

Six-and-a-half years later, that vision came to fruition thanks to the generosity of donors, 90 percent of whom are Plymouth State alums who demonstrated the power of giving back.

The final piece to push the project beyond the finish line came from the largest donor of the group, the Morgridge Family Foundation and its founders, Carrie and John ’85 Morgridge.

Milian Eklund ’23 of Sweden

“The lab is so powerful in so many ways,” the Morgridges said. “It is a true asset to the education of the students in physical health programs and to have a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning lab on site to experiment, learn, and grow from is a gift. The vision for this facility is a gift we are so proud to support.”

Plymouth State students will benefit tremendously from the investment.

“Plymouth State already had a leg up on a lot of the competition because it was teaching school,” said Ryan Bellerose ’16. “The educational resources here are better than most places.” Bellerose, who played football from 2012 to 2015, currently serves as Vanderbilt University’s assistant strength coach was previously sports science coordinator with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. “At PSU you get practical experience at a very young age,” he added, crediting Plymouth State for the many professional opportunities he has had.

While Bellerose didn’t personally benefit from the new lab space, generations of students in the field will.
“In exercise science, the most important thing is hands-on experience,” said Professor of Exercise and Sport Physiology David Ferrer. “The lab is a place where we can apply the hard sciences but understand the human component of things. The ability to do that in this lab with classmates and those outside of the major will allow students to become stronger candidates for jobs and grad schools.”

The human performance programs at Plymouth State have never fallen short of being excellent, but the addition of the Morgridge Strength & Performance Lab has understandably brought expectations to a whole new level.

Milian Eklund ’23 of Sweden

Graduate student Ben Chipman ’22, a member of the men’s ice hockey program, is excited about the University’s commitment.

“The new strength and conditioning space shows a significant commitment by PSU to provide cutting-edge resources that will allow our student athletes to perform at their best,” Chipman said. “It’s an exciting time to be involved in varsity sports on campus, and I believe this renovation will help strengthen the sense of community amongst all teams as well as allow for a positive and cohesive athletic experience.”

The facility is overseen by Director of Strength and Conditioning John “JT” Thomas.

“Utilizing the Morgridge Strength & Performance Lab as a teaching tool is one of the main concepts here,” Thomas said. “But even just looking at the athletic side, we’re definitely in a different league when it comes to what we can provide as an NCAA Division III school. There are a lot of Division I schools that don’t have a space this size.”

And it’s not just student athletes or undergraduate students in the Health and Human Enrichment Cluster that benefit from the space. Graduate students in the 3+2 master of science in athletic training and the doctor of physical therapy graduate programs, among others, will also experience significant gains.

“Not only can students get hands-on experience, but they get the opportunity to learn about different technologies that professors are proficient in,” added Thomas. “It gives young students in the physical therapy and athletic training programs access to these new experiences.”

The potential of education at Plymouth State now seems infinite with the Morgridge Strength & Performance Lab preparing students for even greater success in the health and wellness field.