Chatham Cougars switch to Union Fitness


Members of the men’s ice hockey team with strength coach CJ Jasper. Photo Credit: Carson Gates

Michaela DeLauter

Chatham Cougars have left their den to venture to a new territory, Union Fitness. This venture was led by Michael Gershon, men’s ice hockey head coach.

“When I first got the job, I talked to every returning player to introduce myself, get to know them and ask them different things about the program as well as what they would like to see improved,” said Gershon. “We kind of zeroed in on the workouts as something they were doing on their own.”

Gershon found Union Fitness from CJ Jasper, who worked with him at Robert Morris University (RMU). Prior to Gershon’s departure from RMU, Jasper left to help start up Union Fitness with Todd Hammer, the general manager.

“He’s worked with Division I, [also with the New York] Mets, so his resume kind of speaks for itself, same with all those guys that work over at Union Fitness,” Gershon said about asking Jasper to coach his team in strength and conditioning. 

Last year, the men’s ice hockey team traveled alone to Union Fitness for team workouts as COVID-19 protocols limited the team in group workouts. This year, other Chatham athletic teams have joined the switch.

“Our guys started talking about what they were doing at Union Fitness, and you start talking to other coaches on campus about different things, as it just comes up. They were intrigued, so we started talking, scheduled different meetings and things for Union Fitness just went from there,” said Gershon.

Chatham University does not have its own full-time strength and conditioning coach. Before the switch to Union Fitness, many teams were finding themselves working out at their coach’s discretion. For some, the coach may have strength and conditioning skills, for other teams, the coach does not have the certain skills to teach their athletes proper strength and conditioning.

The switch to Union Fitness is offered to all sports teams at Chatham, but not all sports teams take the offer.

 “If you have someone on your coaching staff that you feel has the expertise in strength and conditioning, some of the teams can do it here,” said Leonard Trevino, director of athletics and recreational sports. “Say you have an assistant basketball coach who is good at basketball but doesn’t have the strength and conditioning background, then they would utilize [the opportunity.]”

 Currently, there are nine Chatham teams working out at Union Fitness.

 While the travel to Union Fitness can bear an inconvenience to some athletes who have classes right after workouts, there are more positives to this switch.

 For starters, it allows athletes to work with people outside of their athletic team. Many teams work out with Jasper, who pushes them out of their comfort zones.

 “We want to push them past their comfort zone to show them with a positive attitude and support from their teammates that they can have success, more confidence and accomplish way more than they think with a positive push,” said Jasper.

 Students have noticed improvements in not only themselves, but their teammates as well since starting out at Union Fitness.

 The Chatham volleyball team began their workouts the first full week back into the spring 2022 semester.

 “At the beginning, we were almost timid at the thought of using more weight and doing new exercises,” said volleyball player Baileigh Horan ’24. “Now, I see more confidence throughout whether it be adding more weight to our exercises or going after an exercise with a better mindset. We are more confident in our capabilities.”

 With greater confidence, Chatham teams have performed better.

 “Almost every team at Chatham had a historic year,” said Jasper.

 Gershon agreed.

 “I think our records show that we’re getting better as a hockey program and I believe that strength and conditioning part is a big part of that,” he said.

 Last year, under COVID-19 regulations, room capacity was put in place for safety concerns. When teams were working out in the gym, it closed the gym for non-athlete students who were looking to workout.

 This switch opens the door for non-athlete students to use the gym more frequently.

Emily Seamon working out during a team session at Union Fitness. Photo Credit: Lauren Haak

 “Before COVID-19, if you came in here about 4 or 5 p.m., it was really crowded in there,” Trevino said. “In fact, what we used to do when we had one of our larger teams go in there, like lacrosse, we would be like ‘you can only put a third of the team in there at this time,’ So, by going off campus, it not only keeps them together, but it also frees up a lot of space here.”

 The switch to Union Fitness has also been beneficial to the athletes not just by athletics, but academically as well.

 “A lot of our guys who are studying health sciences, [Union Fitness] have done a really good job at providing internships in the summer for those that are interested in personal training, to get their internship credit,” said Gershon.

 According to Trevino, in the future Chatham would like to see their own full-time strength and conditioning coach. Until then, the teams plan on keeping Union Fitness as theirs.

 “I think having a personal trainer for the team is great,” said Horan. “We get a better understanding of exercises, how they impact what muscles and feedback. We get feedback whether it’s positive or constructive. Either one helps us to get better and stronger.”

 Ultimately, Jasper would like to build the community and bridge between Union Fitness and Chatham. For now, he focuses on pushing the teams to their full potential.

 “A lot of the stuff we do at Union Fitness is to really push you a little further to challenge you to communicate and to figure out how you can work together as a team,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about having fun because I think also playing sport is about winning and being competitive, but you play sport because you love it.”