At times this season, the Galena High School boys basketball team seemed to hypnotize its opponents, passing the ball around until the opposing defense fell into a trance and the Grizzlies scored an easy basket.
In reality, it's the Grizzlies who've been hypnotized this season. Seven players on the Galena squad, which begins its state tournament play today against Gorman at Lawlor Events Center at 10:35 a.m., have undergone hypnosis in hopes of improving their free-throw shooting.
The results of the hypnosis, performed by 1970 Carson High grad and current Galena swim coach Wendie Balmer, have been, well, eye opening.
"In the early preseason, when we were playing in the fall league at the Boys and Girls Club, we were shooting 49 percent as a team," said Galena coach Tom Maurer. "After Wendy took seven of our kids and did the hypnosis, we got up to 71 percent."
Point guard Chase Altom showed the most dramatic improvement, upping his free-throw percentage from 45 to 81 percent.
"It's kinda weird," said Altom, who went 5-for-6 from the line down the stretch in the Grizzlies' zone quarterfinal win over Carson and is 38-for-46 this season. "But it's worth trying new things to see how they work."
It's not just the players who believe in the power of hypnosis. Maurer himself underwent hypnosis at the same time (not to improve his shooting but to drop some unnecessary pounds) and has reduced his weight from 205 to 175 pounds during the course of the season.
Balmer, who teaches psychology, food preparation and child development at Galena High, explained that hypnosis helps a person focus on one thing, allowing a person to convince their subconscious on "how it has to be." She said some people mistakenly believe people fall asleep while hypnotized, but in reality hypnosis is nothing more than a state of relaxed awareness.
"What we did was, coach told me exactly where the players need to put their feet, their arms, what they need to look at - everything for a good shot - and we went through it in the gym," Balmer said. "From where they put their feet to the follow-through of their hands, they have to be totally focused.
"The players are visualizing all of these steps. If they keep visualizing all of this, then it's going to happen. The more they visualize, the easier it's going to get."
Altom said there's one big reason why hypnosis helped his shooting.
"Concentration is the biggest thing," Altom said. "It's all about thinking about form, not thinking, 'This shot is going to put us up by two points.'"
Balmer learned how to hypnotize others at a three-day class taught by Rich Finn at Western Nevada Community College. When she came back to school, she joked about hypnotizing other teachers.
A janitor heard her story and passed it along to Maurer, who became the first to "get knocked out" in a quest to lose weight, specifically by avoiding bread products.
Maurer, convinced of its effectiveness, began spreading the word about hypnosis. With parental consent, members of the basketball, wrestling and swim teams are now using hypnosis at the school. (The swim team members haven't been hypnotized yet, but are set to be this week.)
Unfortunately for Galena's 3-point shooting, the hypnosis only improved the team's free-throw shooting. (Maurer has his own ways of improving shooting from the field during practice. One of his favorites is to have his players shoot over brooms held in front of the basket.)
"Because you're trying to get it into the subconscious, if you have (your goal) too broad, then it won't go in the subconscious," said Balmer, who plans to become certified in hypnosis. "It's just too much to change. It has to be specific."