Brian Shrewsbury, owner of Maryland State Gymnastics in Upper Marlboro, knew the onslaught was coming. But he didn't expect that one recent Saturday morning he would face a shoulder-to-shoulder rush of parents registering their eager children for classes.
The boom was prompted by the televised Olympic success of the U.S. men's and women's gymnastics teams, which each won silver medals, and the crowning of all-around stars Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson as gold medal winners.
"Business has been a lot better since we won," said Shrewsbury, who estimated that 50 to 60 new students registered that morning, using up all his forms. He had to write down credit card receipts on scraps of paper.
The Maryland suburbs have produced some celebrated gymnasts in recent years. Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring went to three Olympics, capturing a team bronze in 1992 and an individual bronze and team gold in 1996. She and Elise Ray of Columbia competed in 2000. Courtney Kupets of Gaithersburg recently won a team silver medal and an individual bronze. All trained under Kelli Hill, the Olympic women's coach this year, at Hill's Gymnastics Training Center in Gaithersburg.
Spikes in enrollment during and after an Olympic year are not unusual, many gymnastics center owners say. Across the country, clubs are reporting 50 to 100 new members each day, said Loree Galimore, club services manager for USA Gymnastics, the 100,000-member Indianapolis-based governing body for the sport. She predicts that clubs will have a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in enrollment this year.
"The Olympics are a great opportunity for gymnastics to be seen at a larger level," said Terri Mueller, Maryland chairman for USA Gymnastics.
Some clubs have been preparing by opening up space, buying equipment, hiring coaches and adding classes.
Cherie Hope, owner of Silver Stars Gymnastics of Silver Spring, said that her club increased space by 50 percent, to 18,000 square feet. She started planning the expansion a year ago. She also has been adding teachers and classes. "It was time, and with the Olympics coming, it was a good opportunity," Hope said. "The exposure of the Olympics gives it a little bit of luster."
Shrewsbury hired four coaches in June to add to his six instructors. He expanded the program to include children as young as 1 year old. About 15 new classes were tacked on to the schedule. He now wants to add space. "We'll be looking for a larger facility because we've outgrown this," he said.
The increase in business at Shrewsbury's center started before the Olympics, he said. Since March 2003, membership at the gym has doubled to more than 800 students, he said, with interest also coming from cheerleading squads seeking to weave gymnastic moves into their routines.
Summer is known as the slowest time of the year for enrollment, but there has been no slowdown at Shrewsbury's gym this summer. "This is actually a bit early for us," Shrewsbury said. "Our target time for enrollment to really pick up is right after that first week of school."
But Olympic excitement has brought kids in sooner, said Adam Tichenor, 21, Shrewsbury's stepson and a coach. "They've seen it on TV, and they know what it's about, so they just want to come in and just be the gymnasts on TV."
About three years ago, Sheila Peake of Annapolis took her daughter Shekinah, now 7, to Maryland State Gymnastics. Shekinah didn't enroll then but now wants to start classes.
"She's actually been telling various people in the family that she wants to play gymnastics," Peake said. "Now, everything's come together, and with the Olympics out there, it's just like 'OK, let's just go ahead and do this.' "
Shekinah had been working on her splits all summer. "She was this high from the split, now she's down to here," Peake said, motioning a reduction of about three inches with her hands.
Upper Marlboro resident Cindy Martin went to Shrewsbury's gym because she couldn't wait to sign up her daughters, 3-year-old Tayler and 2-year-old Toni.
"With people coming from my area who have excelled and done well, you come to know that it's important for them to start young and to get involved with it," said Martin, an English teacher at Largo High School. "So, having that knowledge, I just kind of want to see if there's any talent there and perfect it while they're young."