In Play with Tom Markowski

The top 100 high school athletes of all time: Wheatley is named the best; Dave DeBusschere, Henry Carr follow

Multi-Sport   | Tom Markowski

The top 100 high school athletes of all time: Wheatley is named the best; Dave DeBusschere, Henry Carr follow

The following is a list of the top 100 male athletes in the history of Michigan high school athletics. This list is a compilation of facts and opinions. In analyzing data and comparing athletes of the 1920s to those of the 1990s and beyond we found difficulty in imagining what the athletes of the past would compare and compete against those of the present-day athlete. The adage, ‘bigger, stronger, faster’, must be applied but one cannot overlook the records and achievements of those in the 1940s, ‘30s and earlier.

It is the intent of State Champs to expose the achievements of athletes whom some of our readers are not familiar with and to create conversation on just who were some of the best. 

We have a few guidelines for athletes to be considered for this list. One is they had to attend high school, for at least one school year, in Michigan. They also had to compete in sports at the high school the y attended. Playing for club teams and travel teams outside of the school is not sufficient.

Athletes like boxers Joe Louis and Chris Byrd, for example, did not, as far as our research could ascertain, compete in athletics, at least in boxing, their main sport, in high school.

Other athletes, like hockey standout Mike Modano, did not compete in the sport they excelled at in high school.

State Champs would like to thank Wikipedia, MHSAA historian Ron Pesch, Detroit area historian Bill Hoover and others like Michigan sports writers Denny Grall and Bill Kahn for their expertise and who provided so much of the information and opinions about these athletes that made this project possible.

In our efforts to obtain information on many of these athletes accuracy was sometimes a cloudy area.

For instance, much of the information obtained on some of the Negro League players was sketchy.

The following is our top 10 list of the athletes. This process at State Champs has been quite a project to complete but, as in most projects of this nature, it has been quite satisfying and informative to those who helped to gather all of the names and information.

We hope you enjoyed reading it and we’re sure some of you have some disagreements. That’s fine. A person’s perception offer differs from age to age and region to region.

Below our list of our top 10 athletes is a list of the other phenomenal athletes who made our top 100 list.




  1. Tyrone Wheatley, Dearborn Heights Robichaud, Michigan, Giants, Raiders (NFL): Born in Inkster, Wheatley was a three-sport athlete at Robichaud and became one of the greatest track athletes and one of the greatest football players in state high school history. As a youth he ran competitively with the Penn Park track team, where, as an 8-year-old, he stood out. Because of family troubles, he assumed a family leadership role at a relatively young age for his sister and half-brother. At Robichaud he became a nine-time MHSAA champion, seven individually in track, and one each for team titles in track and football. In basketball Wheatley started for two seasons and made all-conference but was never considered a great basketball player, even at that level, but some of his dunks were awesome and brought the crowd to their feet several times. He played eight different positions in football and was first team all-state twice. He was named the No. 1 Blue Chip player in 1991 by The Detroit News and some regard Wheatley as the best football player in state history. A four-year starter, Wheatley made first team all-state three times. His 1990 Bulldogs won the Class B title, 21-7, over Kingsford. Wheatley ran for 168 yards and one TD on 22 carries in the game and also played an outstanding game at defensive end/linebacker. He became a seven-time MHSAA Class B individual state champion by winning the long jump, 100-meter dash and the 110 hurdles in both his junior and senior seasons, and winning the 200 dash as junior. In his junior year, he led his school to the Class B track championship by scoring 40 of his team's 49 points and he became the first individual four-time track and field state champion in the same year in MHSAA history. Wheatley still holds the Class B record in the long jump (23 feet, 10¾ inches) he set his junior season (1989). His time of 13.7 in the 110 hurdles remains a Class B record and is second all-time, all-class to the time Thomas Wilcher (Detroit Central) set in 1982 at 13.6. Wheatley was named All-America in both sports. At U-M Wheatley played running back for four years and ran track for three. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors on teams that won Big Ten Championships in both sports and All-America honors in track. For a time Wheatley held aspirations of competing in the Olympics but those dreams were never captured. In football, he set and retains numerous school records and in track he achieved some of the fastest times in school history. Here are but a few. His 17 TDs in 1992 ranks as the fifth most productive season in U-M history. That season he was the Big Ten rushing and scoring champion in an offense where quarterback Elvis Grbac was also a statistical Big Ten champion. He earned conference Offensive Player of the Year and capped the season off by earning the MVP of the ’93 Rose Bowl. He had 235 rushing yards on 15 carries, which included TD runs of 88, 56 and 24 yards. He finished eighth in the Heisman voting in 1993 and was considered the favorite the next season but an injury forced him to miss much playing time early in the season. In track he was the Big Ten outdoor 110 hurdles champion, was selected first team All-Big Ten, and was a member of the men's indoor track and field team that won the indoor Big Ten team championship. He placed eighth at the 1995 NCAA outdoor championships in the 110 hurdles, which earned him All-America honors. At the end of his Michigan track career, he owned the third fastest indoor 60-meter time at 6.80 seconds as well as the second fastest outdoor 110 hurdles time at 13.77 seconds and third fastest outdoor 100 dash at 10.46 seconds. The Giants selected Wheatley in the first round (17th overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft. In ’96 he led the team in all-purpose yards and was their leading ball carrier the next season. He was traded to the Dolphins but was cut before the ’99 season. He signed with the Raiders and career was re-born. He led the team in rushing three times and twice finishing among the NFL's top ten players in rushing TDs. During his 10-year NFL career Wheatley totaled over 6,500 all-purpose yards as a running back and kick returner. Since retiring as a player, Wheatley returned to the game as a coach. He first went back to Robichaud as the head coach and then he went on to the college ranks, which included stops at Eastern Michigan, Syracuse and U-M. He coached with the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and is currently the running backs coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.


  1. Dave DeBusschere, Detroit Austin Catholic Prep, University of Detroit, White Sox (MLB), Pistons, Knicks (NBA): DeBusschere was a two-time all-state basketball player and led the Friars to the Class A semifinals in just the school’s second year of existence. The next season he led Austin to the Class A title (1958) scoring 32 points in the final in what is considered a classic matchup against Benton Harbor and its all-state player, Chet Walker (No. 81 on our list). In 1962 the Chicago White Sox signed DeBusschere as a free agent. He pitched for the White Sox from 1962-63. He pitched a shutout on August 13, 1963, against Cleveland, giving up six hits, one walk and striking out three. He pitched in the White Sox minor league system for two more seasons before giving up pitching to focus on both playing and coaching basketball. His career MLB record is 3-4 with a 2.90 ERA. He is one of only 12 athletes to have played in both in the MLB and the NBA. Danny Ainge is among that elite group. DeBusschere starred in both basketball and baseball at U-D. He averaged 24 points a game in basketball, helping the Titans reach the NIT twice and the NCAA Tournament once. He also pitched the Titans to three NCAA baseball tournament appearances. Back to basketball. The Pistons selected him in the 1962 Draft and was named to the all-Rookie team after averaging 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. In the 1964–65 season, at the age of 24, he was named player-coach for the Pistons, and thus became the youngest coach in league history. He was traded to the Knicks in 1968 and, along with future Hall of Famers Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier, became an NBA champion when the Knicks defeated the Lakers in the 1970 NBA Finals. The Knicks became champions again in 1973, again beating the Lakers in the finals. After a 12-year NBA career DeBusschere was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983 after averaging 16.1 points and 11 rebounds. He was named to eight NBA All-Star teams and became a member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996. A physical player who possessed an outstanding perimeter shot, DeBusschere was also a tremendous defensive player. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team six times. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, three years after he died of a heart attack. He became ABA Commissioner in 1975 and is given credit for helping the NBA and ABA merge the following season.


  1. Henry Carr, Detroit Southwestern/Detroit Northwestern, Burlington (IA) Community College, Arizona State, Giants (NFL), Olympics (track): Carr was born in Montgomery, Ala., before his family moved to Detroit. His main sport, even in high school, was track. He also excelled at football and basketball in high school. He made all-city in football at Southwestern. At Northwestern he ran 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds and tied the world record in the 220 dash while still in high school. Carr played basketball one season at Burlington (IA) CC. He won three national titles at ASU. In college he set world records in the 220-yard dash and as a member of ASU’s 4 x 440 yard relay team. Carr won the 1963 NCAA title at 200 meters in 20.5. That same year he ran 20.69 to tie Paul Drayton for the USA title. Twice that season Carr ran world records; a non-ratified 20.4 for 220 yards and, three days later in a college triangular meet, a 20.3 for 220 yards. Henry Carr ran even faster in 1964. He set a world record of 20.2 for 220 yards. He also defeated Drayton to win the national title. His crowning achievements came at the 1964 Olympics when he won the Olympic Gold Medal in the 200-meter dash in a world record time of 20.1 seconds. He also anchored the 1,600 relay team that captured a gold medal at the ’64 Olympics. The team of Carr, Ollan Cassell, Mike Larrabee and Ulis Williams won in a world-record time of 3:00.7. He nearly didn’t qualify. He was well beaten into fourth place in the trials and only three qualify. Carr had won his semifinal heat and that performance convinced U.S. officials to send him to the Olympics. Carr was ranked among the best in the world in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints in the period from 1962-64, according to the votes of the experts of Track and Field News. Carr was a 1975 charter inductee in the Arizona State Sun Devils Athletics Hall of Fame and in 1997 he was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. Following the Olympics, Carr was selected in the fourth round of the 1965 NFL Draft by the Giants. He played three seasons and 37 games as a safety and cornerback with New York. He had seven interceptions for 142 yards including one he returned 101 yards for a TD. In 1969, he had a try-out with the Lions but quit their training camp.


  1. Benjamin “Benny” Oosterbaan, Muskegon, Michigan: Oosterbaan was one of the greatest athletes to attend U-M. Oosterbaan earned All-America recognition five times; twice in basketball (1927 and 1928) and three times in football (1925, 1926, and 1927). He earned nine varsity letters at Michigan in basketball, football, and baseball. On the basketball court Oosterbaan played on Michigan's first great teams. He played forward on coach E.J. Mather's consecutive conference champions in 1925-26 and 1926-27. In 1928 Oosterbaan led the conference in scoring with 178 points and an 11.25 average as he won his second All-American honor. He was selected by Sports Illustrated as the fourth greatest athlete in the history of the U.S. in the state of Michigan in 2003, and one of the eleven greatest college football players of the first century of the game (ending in 1968). During his athletic career he was a Big Ten batting champion in baseball, Big Ten scoring champion in basketball, and Big Ten touchdown leader in football. He was the first U-M athlete to be named a first-team All-America in basketball and the first three-time first-team football All-America. In high school, he had been an All-American basketball player, a state champion in track (discus) and an All-state player in baseball and football. Born in Muskegon, Oosterbaan began his athletic career with the Big Reds where he was selected by the Detroit News as an All-State end. In his junior year (1923), he led the Muskegon basketball team to a state championship and was named a High School All-America in basketball. According to a Michigan Today article, Oosterbaan could have made the 1928 Summer Olympics team in the discus. A true student-athlete, Oosterbaan was awarded the Western Conference Medal for proficiency in scholarship and athletics. Foregoing opportunities to play both professional football and baseball, Oosterbaan joined the U-M football and basketball coaching staffs immediately after graduation. He served as head basketball coach from 1939-1946, compiling an 81-72 record. He succeeded Fritz Crisler as head football coach in 1948, winning a national championship in his first season. After stepping down as football coach following the 1958 season, Oosterbaan held a number of positions within the athletic department.


  1. Ron Kramer, East Detroit, Michigan, Packers (NFL): Kramer was a multi-sport high school and college athlete, and professional football player. Born in Kansas, Kramer moved to Michigan at age five and was an all-state player in football, basketball and track, where he competed in the shot put and long jump. A first team All-State selection in basketball by the Detroit News and Detroit Times, Kramer averaged better than 27 points per game in leading his team to the Eastern Michigan title,” according to the Times. He scored 370 points during the regular season, ”adding 100 more during the tournament.” At U-M Kramer was named U-M’s basketball MVP three straight seasons. A ‘57 U-M graduate, Kramer won nine varsity letters in football, basketball and track (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity sports at that time). Kramer played left end from 1954 to 1956. As a sophomore he caught a team-high 23 passes for 303 yards and two TDs. He was subsequently named first-team All-Big Ten. Kramer was selected as a consensus first-team All-America in 1955. Kramer had his best collegiate season as a senior, starting all nine games for a team that finished the season ranked No. 7 in the final AP Poll. Kramer caught 18 passes for 353 yards and two TDs in 1956 and was a unanimous first-team All-America. His jersey (#87) was retired after Kramer's senior year. He was also known as an outstanding tackler and blocker. His coach, Benny Oosterbaan, said his blocking and tackling ability were his most valuable assets. Oosterbaan said this of Kramer, “To top off his marvelous physical gifts of size and speed and strength, plus an uncanny coordination, Kramer was one of the fiercest competitors I've ever seen. Nothing was impossible for him — the impossible was only a challenge." Kramer also handled kicking and punting duties for Michigan. He had 31 punts for a 40.6 yard average and kicked two field goals. In basketball Kramer was named U-M MVP three consecutive seasons. He was third-team All-Big Ten in 1957 after being second-team All-Big Ten in both 1955 and 1956. During his junior year, he averaged 20.4 points per game over a 22-game season and is a member of the career 1,000-point club.  He held the school career-scoring record of 1,119 points from 1957 until it was broken by John Tidwell in 1961. The Packers selected Kramer fourth overall in the 1957 NFL Draft. Kramer also received an offer that year to play with the all-star basketball team that toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. He rejected it. As a rookie for the Packers Kramer appeared in 11 games and caught 28 passes for 337 yards. He missed the entire 1958 season due to service in the U.S. Air Force. Kramer was used sparingly in ’59 and ’60. Kramer was much improved entering the ’61 season and was moved to tight end. That year Kramer had 35 catches for 559 yards and four touchdowns. In ‘62 Kramer had 37 receptions for 555 yards and seven TDs, and was selected to the Pro Bowl and as a first-team All-Pro player. From 1961-64, Kramer had at least 500 receiving yards every season, averaging 16 yards per reception. He became an integral part of coach Vince Lombardi’s (’61 and ’62) teams that won the Packers' first NFL championships since 1944. In the ’61 title game, a 37-0 win for the Packers over the Giants, Kramer was the leading receiver, catching four passes for 80 yards and two TDs. In addition to his talent as a receiver, Kramer's talent as a blocker was an integral part of the famed "Packer sweep”. In 1978 Kramer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and that same year Kramer became one of the first seven individuals inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor. In 1999 Sports Illustrated published a list of "The 50 Greatest Sports Figures from Michigan" and ranked Kramer seventh on the list behind such athletes as Joe Louis, Magic Johnson, Charlie Gehringer and Benny Oosterbaan.


  1. Brad Van Pelt, Owosso, Michigan State, Giants, Raiders, Broncos (NFL): Van Pelt was named first team all-state in football at quarterback in 1968 and was named first team all-conference (Big Nine) in football (two ways), basketball and baseball. He turned down a reported $100,000 signing bonus his senior season to play pr