High School Heroes
Which states and high schools produce the most pro athletes in three major U.S. sports? We crunched the numbers on over 25,000 pro sports players to find out.
Each year, around 7.3 million high school athletes are given the opportunity to take their athletic skills to the next level, some even skipping college and moving directly into the professional ranks.
If you grew up playing organized team sports, it's likely your athletic "glory days" ended by the time you completed high school. When college and pro scouts come calling, only a select few have the talent to advance to the next level.
Those fortunate enough to play college or professional sports will tell you the competition is fierce and collecting a ring for winning your sport's championship may be a long shot. Only the strongest survive, and the numbers reveal a startling reality.
For example, during the 2016-17 school year, slightly over one million young men played high school football in the U.S., but less than 92,684, or 8.4%, performed at the college level.
And if you were one of the 491,790 who played high school baseball, your chances improved slightly, with 11.5% making the next move.
If you dream of earning even a mid to high six-figure salary playing alongside your favorite NBA players, then practice about a million more free throws because your chances are even slimmer, with only 5.6% of 550,305 male high school basketball players advancing to college.
These numbers may give you an even better perspective. Here are the odds of high school males playing at the college and professional level:
We were curious and decided to peek behind the curtain to see which states and high schools produce the most pro athletes in three major U.S. sports: baseball, football, and basketball.
Here are our findings – be prepared for a surprise or two.
High Production States
Let's begin with a high-altitude assessment by reviewing the schools and states producing the most professional athletes in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and National Basketball Association.
It probably won't come as a surprise that larger, more populous states like California, Texas, and Florida produce a significant number of top-caliber performers. California's Long Beach Polytechnic High School, a powerhouse institution, tops the list with the most professional athletes in the three major sports, with an astounding 64 pro players.
Other California high schools with star-studded numbers include: Susan Miller Dorsey (43), Compton (42), Crenshaw (37), and Berkeley (36).
But to gain an even more accurate perspective, we also need to review per-capita ratios or the percentage ranking based on population.
When it came to areas with the highest per-capita concentration of pro athletes in major sports, Washington, D.C., topped the charts (given its relatively low population compared to the number of paid athletes in the NFL, MLB, and NBA). Archbishop Carroll and McKinley high schools in D.C. are two prime examples of basketball factories.
Per-capita ratios also boded well for Southern states with smaller populations, such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, which occupied the next three slots. Schools like Mississippi's Moss Point High School (23), Louisiana's St. Augustine High School (23), and Woodlawn High School in Alabama (15) have consistently developed sports superstars.
Bringing up the rear in this category was Vermont, New Mexico, and Alaska. However, Alaska's Lathrop High School in Fairbanks has produced two major sports pro athletes.
Rust Belt and Midwestern states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nebraska, and Oklahoma have plenty of reason to brag as they turn out their fair share of football stars, such as Jahri Evans, Roger Staubach, Trevor Roach, and Gerald McCoy.
Texas and Florida, two states with large populations and pleasant weather conditions that allow for plenty of practice and play time, had a combined eight schools that sent at least 25 players to the big time.
Ball High School in Galveston, Texas, and South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas both had 28 players who turned pro in football, baseball, or basketball.
Kids who aspire to play in the MLB may have a better chance if they grow up in states like California, Oklahoma, or some of the Deep South states. It may even surprise you that Washington had a decent percentage of MLB players per capita.
However, if you live in Wyoming, you might want to stick with developing another skill because the state falls far behind, with only two baseball players having played in the MLB.
Remember the movie "Hoosiers," when Gene Hackman played a washed-out high school basketball coach who took a handful of boys from a small farming town and led them to the Indiana State championship?
Indiana's reputation for producing top basketball talent is more than a myth because it's home to NBA greats like former Boston Celtics Larry Bird and current NBA player Zach Randolph. And it may shock you that Indiana turns out more pro football players than basketball players.
Now that we've seen how the 50 states and Washington, D.C., compare when it comes to producing pro athletes in dominant sports, let's grab a magnifying glass and examine the high schools that create the most NFL players.
Having just one athlete achieve professional status is a tremendous achievement for any high school.
With Long Beach Polytech's incredible numbers, it's not surprising to see it topping the list with 56 players who ended up in the NFL, including superstars DeSean Jackson of the Washington Redskins and Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans.
Military high schools may be better known for developing the leadership qualities of career officers, but they also can lay claim to creating football leaders.
Coming in a close second with 45 NFL players, Virginia's Fork Union Military Academy has produced the likes of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Vinny Testaverde and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George.
Tied for third with 33 players is St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One of its latest success stories is Joey Bosa, a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers in 2016. And who can forget Michael Irvin, the former Dallas Cowboys great and school's only first-round pick?
You may not remember another St. Thomas alum, Brian Piccolo for his skills as a Chicago Bears running back, but he left a considerable mark in his three NFL seasons nonetheless. His career was cut short by cancer, and his inspirational story was the subject of the TV movie, "Brian's Song."
Grabbing the other third-place spot is Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. One of the most recognizable alumni is former No. 1 pick and 11-season standout, Keyshawn Johnson, a wide receiver for the New York Jets.
Remember our reference to Louisiana's ability to conceive pro talent? We move down a few spots to St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. Tied for fifth with 30 pro athletes, running back Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars and defensive safety Tyrann Mathieu of the Houston Texans are two of the school's latest success stories.
Heading to the East Coast, we find DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. This small private high school somehow finds a way to compete with much larger public schools, having sent 26 players to the NFL ranks. Alumni Cameron Wake signed with the New York Giants in 2005. Since then, the 36-year-old is still bumping heads as a tight end for the Miami Dolphins.
Cleveland, Ohio's, Glenville High School has seen Marshon Lattimore and 23 other NFL players in its locker rooms, most of whom played under the instruction of legendary coach Ted Ginn Sr. His son, Ted Ginn Jr., is a return specialist and wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints.
Other high schools making the top 10 were McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio, Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia, Louisville Male High School in Louisville, Kentucky, and Abraham Lincoln High School in San Diego, California.
Home Run High Schools
There must be something in the California air that makes pitchers throw over 90 mph and fly balls move past the 425-foot outfield wall with ease. How else can you explain how 15 of the top 20 MLB-producing high schools call the Golden State home?
Fremont High School in Los Angeles stands atop this list, with 25 former baseball players making it to what baseball insiders refer to as "the show."
One of its more notable alumni is the legendary Bobby Doerr, who played his entire 14-year career with the Boston Red Sox. His on-field successes included batting over 0.300 in three times and six seasons where he drove in over 100 runs. Another notable player is Eric Davis, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Known for turning out more than football superstars, Long Beach Polytechnic can claim bragging rights for its baseball program, as well. Sending 19 players to the MLB, one of the program's best is Chase Utley, currently the second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, Utley spent 12 seasons on the East Coast before returning west to his hometown of Los Angeles.
Undoubtedly, one of the best all-around athletes Polytechnic has produced is Tony Gwynn. Known as "Mr. Padre," Gwynn spent his entire 20-year career with the San Diego Padres and is recognized as one of the most consistent hitters in the history of big league baseball. A two-sport standout, Gwynn was also the starting point guard his junior and senior seasons and received offers to play college basketball but none to play baseball. He went on to play both sports at San Diego State University before finally settling on baseball as his career.
Taking the third spot and standing out as the only non-California team in the top 10 is Florida's Sarasota High School with 17 MLB players. Former players Matt Drew and Greg Blosser were two of the school's highest draft picks.
Polytechnic doesn't have a monopoly on baseball players in the Long Beach area, however. Venturing back to the West Coast, Sacramento produced 16 players Woodrow Wilson High joins Lakewood and Berkeley high schools with 15 MLB players each to their credit.
Baseball historians will remember Hall of Famer Bob Lemon as one of Woodrow Wilson's standouts. Lemon played his entire 15-year career with the Cleveland Indians before managing the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees, where he won a World Series ring in 1978. I bet he would have loved winning in the new Yankee stadium too.
Another notable is Bobby Grich, who played for the Baltimore Orioles and California Angels, where he now works in their front office.
Tied for sixth place are two other California schools: Compton High School and Oakland Technical High School. Nicknamed "The Silver Fox," Compton's Duke Snider played the majority of his career for the Dodgers in both Brooklyn and LA, helping them win championships in 1955 and 1959. He finished his career with stints with the Mets in New York and Giants in San Francisco.
And who can forget the legendary Rickey Henderson? The standout left fielder not only came out of Oakland's Technical High School; he also had four stints with the Oakland A's, the team that took advanced data analysis highlighted in the movie, "Moneyball," to a new level .
A standout All-American running back in high school, Henderson chose to use his blazing speed to break the base-stealing records of both Ty Cobb and Lou Brock.
One of the few top high school programs in the middle part of the nation that consistently churns out top professional baseball talent is Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Under the helm of legendary and current manager Buster Kelso, the program has produced 11 MLB players (many of whom are pitchers), including Craig House, who pitched several seasons for the Atlanta Braves.
Other high schools in the top 10 include two California programs: Lakewood High School and Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose.
Slam Dunk Factories
If you're looking to spot future NBA players, you might want to tour the East Coast because that's where you will find an overwhelming majority of the top high school programs.
Sitting far atop the list with an astounding 29 NBA players is Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.
Graduates of this program could easily comprise an NBA dream team with the likes of New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony, current NBA champion Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, Rajon Rondo of the Dallas Mavericks, Josh Smith of the Houston Rockets, Brandon Jennings of the Detroit Pistons, and Stephen Jackson of the LA Clippers.
New York City playgrounds are also well-known as incubators of basketball talent. DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx was second on the list with 17 pro hoopsters.
Proving size isn't everything in a sport dominated by giants is Nate "Tiny" Archibald, who found success on the hardwood after being cut from the team his sophomore season. Playing in only a few games his junior year, Archibald worked hard and earned All-City honors his senior season. Known for his play for the Brooklyn Nets, he finished his career with the Boston Celtics, winning his only NBA Finals alongside a young Larry Bird.
On a side note, DeWitt Clinton also has other famous grads, such as fashion mogul Ralph Lauren, KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, and playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon.
DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, produced 16 NBA players and gained notoriety in the early 1960s by winning its first national high school championship. Sports Illustrated ranked the school No. 2 for having the nation's best high school athletic program.
The school won a second high school national championship in 1965 by defeating a New York City team that included a young Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Star standouts from their program include Markelle Fultz, the school's only No. 1 draft pick who was also cut from the squad his sophomore season before returning as a junior.
In fact, the team's talent is usually so stacked that it is not uncommon for players to patiently sit on the bench until they see playing time their junior or senior years. Two exceptions are Adrian Dantley and D.J. Harvey. Dantley not only excelled on the court as a high school standout, but he also performed well in the classroom. Harvey was the only player in the school's history to start for the varsity team all four years.
Moving down the coast, North Carolina's Laurinburg Institute had 13 NBA players (tied with Hargrave Military Academy) on its highlight reel, including Sam Jones. Now 84 years old, long-time fans recall Jones' lightning-fast hands and game-winning shots. He ranks second among NBA players who have won 10 or more championship rings.
With a dozen NBA players, Overbrook High School in Philadelphia will forever be known as developing one of the all-time great players in Wilt Chamberlain. Famous for scoring 100 points in a single NBA game, Chamberlain also scored 90 points in an Overbrook game, with 60 of those points in an astonishing 12 minutes (all of which he achieved before the three-point shot became legal).
Tied for the sixth slot is the only high school in a western state. Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, was once home to Tristan Thompson and Avery Bradley, along with nine others who made NBA rosters.
Thompson, a No. 4 draft pick in 2011, plays alongside former Findlay alum Anthony Bennett for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, Bennett was the only No. 1 pick in the school's history. Bradley currently plays with the Boston Celtics.
Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and Notre Dame Preparatory in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, have each graduated 10 NBA players, including Donovan Mitchell and Steven Adams. Thomas Jefferson HS in Brooklyn, New York is another school with 10 players in the pro ranks.
Brewster, a five-time high school national champion, produced a staggering number of players who advanced to the college level. It is easy to see how this program remains one of the most consistent for producing top-quality NBA talent.
Steven Adams, on the other hand, is an anomaly. He had a rough childhood after his father died, but was taken under his brother's wing and enrolled at Scots College, a New Zealand secondary academy. The lanky youngster even played in the National Basketball League as an unpaid player to remain eligible for college sports. When he came to the U.S., Adams enrolled in Notre Dame Prep for one semester so he could adjust to American basketball. He then played one year of NCAA college basketball before declaring for the NBA draft in 2013.
Driving It Home
Were you surprised by some of our findings? We were too. Many of these schools are not only producing incredible athletes but also they graduate students who excel in college academics. It's clear a number of large schools with long track records have graduated an impressive list of professional athletes. Yet, many schools are fortunate enough to have produced at least one athletic standout.
We collected a total of 37,377 players from the high schools listed at baseball-reference.com, basketball-reference.com, and pro-football-reference.com. Player records appear to include the entire history of each league; however, since this is a third-party data set, we are not aware if any player data were not included. Some high schools have existed longer than others, so it is possible player counts are skewed toward those schools.
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