When trying to interpret the ups and downs of program popularity at the Park District of Highland Park, administrators look to television for answers.
The 2012 Summer Olympics were an inspiration to the area's budding gymnasts, said Dan Malartsik, assistant director of facilities. That's one likely reason the district's program notched a 17 percent increase in participants last fall, compared with the same period the previous year.
"The women's Olympics were great — the Fab Five," Malartsik said. "People watched. Our numbers grew."
Winter gymnastics numbers also increased compared with the previous year, he said. The additional 120 registrants equates to a 27 percent spike.
But television can provide motivation, and it can take it away, Malartsik suggested.
Skating lessons at the park district's Centennial Ice Arena slid by 23 percent, and winter hockey lost 61 participants — a 30 percent drop from the 200 registrants a year ago, Malartsik said.
The likely culprit? The National Hockey League.
"A lot of that we can attribute to, contrary to the Olympics, the NHL lockout," he said. "We didn't have a lot of kids enrolled in our hockey programs."
Park district Executive Director Liza McElroy said youth interests are often informed by the buzz around certain sports or activities.
"It's a trend in our industry that when there's an Olympic year and there's a team that has success, that sport — if it was the Winter Olympics and the hockey team had done well, then the hockey numbers would go up," McElroy said.
The district is therefore banking on rejuvenated interest in hockey and skating, now that the Blackhawks are atop the NHL standings after a historic season opening.
"So hopefully the Hawks will win the Stanley Cup, and our registration numbers will go up a lot in the fall," Malartsik said.