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Best High School Athletic Programs

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By Gene Menez and Andrea Woo, with special reporting by Doug Huff

Here it is: The most selective ranking in all of sports. Of the more than 38,000 high schools in the U.S., fewer than one in a thousand made SI's list honoring schools with the nation's top athletic programs. Our criteria emphasized all-around excellence during the last 10 years and included state titles won and college athletes produced. Meet the the Top 5.

1. LONG BEACH POLY Enrollment: 4,750
With apologies to USC, Long Beach Poly has the most celebrated football program in Southern California. Since 1996 Poly has gone undefeated three times and won five championships in the ferociously competitive California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section. In the school's 110-year history four-dozen grads have gone on to the NFL, including eight who were on opening week rosters in 2004. The track program is even more dominant than the football squad, with the boys' and girls' teams having won a combined seven state titles since 1997.Poly is also a powerhouse in the country club games. The boys' golf team went undefeated in the league last year, and the boys' tennis team has been to the CIF section finals two years in a row. Even the cross-country and badminton teams kick serious butt, each having won three straight league titles.
SI Extra: The Long Beach Poly story
2. DEMATHA (Hyattsville, Md.) Enrollment: 1,016
Best known for its nationally ranked basketball teams and former hoops coach Morgan Wootten, this all-boys Catholic school just outside Washington, D.C., has been nearly as successful in football. The Stags have won 16 league titles, and this year 17 players received Division I scholarships. Though Wootten retired in 2002, DeMatha has remained a basketball power. It finished this past season 29-2 and was ranked No. 9 by USA Today. Despite lackluster facilities -- the wrestling team practices in an old auto warehouse, and the football team is forced to play games at a nearby school -- DeMatha has been strong in most sports, and last year 39 of the school's 180 graduating seniors received athletic scholarships.
3. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS (Fort Lauderdale) Enrollment: 2,138
With alums such as tennis great Chris Evert, former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin and Olympic 400-meter runner Sanya Richards, Saint Thomas Aquinas has long been the preeminent program in Florida. In fact, the Raiders were named the state's best sports program for 19 of the past 20 years by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. The school also has hard-core fans: Last year they filled 23 buses for the nearly six-hour trip to Gainesville for the Class 5A state championship football game. The school's best sport, however, is soccer. The girls' team was 29-3 this season and won the state title, and the boys' and the girls' teams were ranked No. 1 in the nation in '97 and '98.
4. PUNAHOU (Honolulu), Enrollment: 1,730
Never mind that the school's most accomplished student-athlete, rising star golfer Michelle Wie, doesn't play on any of its teams. Punahou is the power of the Pacific. The Buff 'n' Blue has won 318 state titles in 20 sports. Its strength is in boys' and girls' swimming and diving (with a combined 80 state titles), and boys' volleyball (at least 25 alums have won NCAA championships, and eight are current AVP tour pros). Punahou also has a strong football tradition: Its alums include Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, former New England Patriots running back Mosi Tatupu and former Dallas Cowboys lineman Mark Tuinei.
5. CHERRY CREEK (Greenwood Village, Colo.), Enrollment: 3,653
While the Bruins have won 162 state titles in everything from pompons to football, they are best known for their dominance in tennis. Over a 28-year span, from 1972 to 2000, the boys' team won 316 consecutive dual matches, a national record for that sport. Cherry Creek is also a power in girls' swimming, with 21 state titles. As a senior in 1991, five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Amy Van Dyken won two individual state titles (she also won a pair as a junior) and helped the Bruins earn a state team championship. Another famous alum, Houston Astros closer Brad Lidge, led Cherry Creek to a state baseball title as a senior in 1995.

SI Extra: The Rest of the Top 25

Issue date: May 16, 2005