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More than a century of seasons. Hundreds of schools. Thousands of athletes.

One rule.

When the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin took on the mammoth challenge of selecting the 10 best high school athletes in state history, much was left to be interpreted. What kind of players would we honor? Are we looking for an all-time great who did it in one sport or someone who didn’t reach those heights but was a three-sport athlete and all-state in two of them? What kind of balance should there be between boys and girls, considering the history of boys sports goes back much further?

The panel of writers and editors who worked on the project discussed those issues and more and came away with one hard, fast rule: Athletes would be judged on what they did in high school.

That eliminated someone like Pewaukee’s J.J. Watt, a superstar in the NFL who blossomed after his prep days, but kept in play anyone who may have fallen from grace later. As a result, everyone had plenty of leeway to bring his or her interpretation of what being a top-10 all-time athlete means.

But now that we’ve come to a consensus, it is clear that we as a group valued certain things.

Multi-sport athletes: While many of our picks are best known for one sport, they also excelled at others, though perhaps not to the level of their No. 1 sport.

College and professional success: Each of our selections went on to have great success after high school. That’s not by accident. When comparing athletes who played in different eras against different levels of competition in different parts of the state, the level of success they had after high school is one way to confirm the greatness they displayed during it.

No youngsters: No one on the list graduated in the 2000s. There have been a lot of all-time great caliber athletes who have come through the state during that time, but the panel gave more value to athletes whose accomplishments have stood the test of time.

The big three: Most of our candidates have a tie to football, basketball or track and field. Of course, there are iconic athletes in other sports, but those three sports are the ones that reach the largest cross-section of people in addition to having some of the longest histories in the state.

Our picks, listed in alphabetical order below, were revealed Thursday night at the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony, and the group also will be honored at the Journal Sentinel High School Sports Awards show May 7 at the Pabst Theater. Look for a story on each player In the weeks leading up to the show at jsonline.com/sports and in the newspaper.

Alan Ameche, Kenosha, (graduated in) 1951: A three-year varsity player, the fullback really shined his final two seasons when he earned all-state distinction. The 1950 Kenosha team is considered one of the finest in state history and it was fueled by Ameche, who had 821 yards and 18 touchdowns in 102 carries as a senior. The Iron Horse, who won the 1954 Heisman Trophy at Wisconsin, was voted the all-time top player when the Milwaukee Journal revealed its Team of the Century in 1993. He was also a track standout who won a state title in the shot put in 1950.

Michael Bennett, Milwaukee Tech, 1998: As a freshman, he won the 200 meters to help the Trojans win the Division 1 state title. As a senior he set an all-divisions state meet record of 10.33 seconds in the 100 that still stands. The all-divisions 200 record of 20.68 that he set that year lasted until last spring. He was also an all-state football player who rushed for more than 4,200 yards and had 20 interceptions. He went on to play football at Wisconsin and in the NFL for 11 seasons.

Robert “Rocky” Bleier, Appleton Xavier, 1964: He is known most for his exploits on the football field, where he was a two-time all-state selection who didn’t lose a game in his final three seasons. A future four-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier was a first-team running back on the Journal’s Team of the Century.  He was also an all-state selection in basketball and a standout in track and field.

Suzy Favor, Stevens Point, 1986: The three-time Olympian is one of the state's biggest all-time winners. She won 10 individual state track/cross country titles and was the first girl to win four state cross country championships. Her all-divisions state-meet record in the 1,600 of 4:48.57 lasted 15 years, and her 800 record of 2:09.88, which was also set in 1985, wasn’t broken for 30 years.

Bud Grant, Superior, 1945: Before he played in the NBA and NFL or coached the Minnesota Vikings, Grant was a four-year varsity football player for Superior at a time when it was extremely rare for a freshman to play at that level. He also starred in basketball, leading the school to the 1942 state tournament, and in baseball, where he was an American Legion standout at a time when the school didn’t have a team.

David Greenwood, Park Falls, 1979: He earned 12 letters at Park Falls, where he won six state track and field titles, including four straight in the high jump. He played baseball for two seasons and hit .600. Greenwood was so talented in football that the universities of Wisconsin and Michigan waged a recruiting war for his services before he selected the Badgers. He went on to help the Michigan Panthers win the first USFL title and later spent two seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

Sonja Henning, Racine Horlick, 1987: The Rebels standout wrapped up her prep basketball career as the state's all-time scoring leader with 2,236 points and then went on to become an All-American at Stanford, where she started on the Cardinal's 1990 national championship team. At Horlick, she also played tennis and ran track, winning state titles in the 400 and 400 relay as a senior when the Rebels won the team title.

Elroy Hirsch, Wausau, 1941: “Crazylegs” starred at Wausau in football, basketball and baseball. He was best known, however, for his work on the gridiron, where his play earned him a place with Ameche and Bleier as first-team running backs on the Journal’s Team of the Century. His skills eventually took him to the University of Wisconsin and then to Michigan and eventually to the NFL Hall of Fame after a 12-year career.

Mike Jirschele, Clintonville, 1977: A big-time winner for the Truckers, Jirschele led the school to a state basketball title as a senior in 1977. That was the sport he earned the most distinction for in high school. However, he was also a standout quarterback who led Clintonville to a state runner-up finish in 1976. He committed to Wisconsin to play football and baseball but signed with the Texas Rangers after being drafted in the fifth round.

Pat Richter, Madison East, 1959: The Purgolders great was a high school All-American in football and basketball. He led East to a state basketball title as a junior. He played those sports and baseball at Wisconsin, where he remains the school’s only nine-time letterman since 1927.

Mark Stewart can be reached at mstewart@journalsentinel.com or on Twitter at MarkStewartMJS.

The panel included Louisa Boardman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Brett Christopherson, Appleton Post-Crescent; former Journal Sentinel writer Jim Hoehn; Dan Kohn, Appleton Post-Crescent; JR Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Mark Stewart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; and Robert Zizzo, Green Bay Press Gazette. Special thanks to former Journal Sentinel writer Cliff Christl.

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With the Bucks doubling up on brothers, we decided to look at other sports siblings with Wisconsin ties. Here's some of the sets we found. Lou Saldivar, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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