An All-American "team" is an honorary sports team composed of outstanding amateur players—those considered the best players of a specific season for each team position—who in turn are given the honorific "All-America" and typically referred to as "All-American athletes", or simply "All-Americans".
As of 2009, the term is used in the U.S. team sports to refer to players who are selected by members of the national media. The term is used primarily with regard to college and, occasionally (and more controversially), to high school players. Outstanding professional players usually are referred to as "All-Stars", or, in the case of professional American football, "All-Pros': (as opposed to Pro Bowlers, who are selected by players, coaches, and fans to compete in Pro Bowl games).
Selection to an All-America team for high school and collegiate players, however, is honorary in nature, and All-America teams do not typically play any games as a unit, unlike many of the all-star teams.
The original use of the term "All-America" seems to have been in reference to a list of college football players who were regarded as the best at their respective positions. The first "All-America" team was the 1889 College Football All-America Team selected by Caspar Whitney and published in This Week's Sports in association with Walter Camp.
The United States Army 82nd Airborne Division was given the nickname "All-American" because its members came from all 48 U.S. states which, at that time, constituted the United States (Hawaii and Alaska did not enter the union until 1959).
The use of the term has been expanded to honor persons outside of the field of sports, especially informally; for example an individual may be popularly referred to as, an "All-America" level entertainer, educator, or other activity which does not have anything to do with athletics.
The term has also been used in athletics in new ways to recognize the academic achievements of student-athletes as "Academic All-America" teams are named. The term "Academic All-America" is a registered trademark of the College Sports Information Directors of America, which began the program in 1952 to recognize college athletes at all levels of competition and in all collegiate sports.
Each year different sets of All-American teams are recognized toward consensus and unanimous selection recognition. A "unanimous selection" is a player who is listed as a first team All-American by all recognized lists. A "consensus All-American" is a player who is listed as a first team All-American by at least half of the recognized lists. Today, the National Collegiate Athletic Association recognizes College Football All-America Teams selected by the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Sporting News, and the Walter Camp Football Foundation (WCFF) to determine consensus All-Americans.
All-America teams are selected annually in various collegiate sports.
At the high school level, noted All-America teams are selected by Parade magazine in football, and the McDonald's restaurant chain in basketball. The McDonald's All-American Team is unlike other All-America awards because it stages an annual game involving these players. Since 2000, the United States Army has sponsored its own annual All-American high school football competition.
In 2005, Offense-Defense Sports began publishing a Top 100 ranking for nation's the top high school football athletes. The Offense-Defense All-American Bowl is held every January, featuring the 88 top-ranked high school seniors.
Athletes who place in the top 15 of each gender division at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, a series of annual cross country running races which are held in various regions of the US, are awarded All-American honors.