After 34 years, 14 state championships, 649 wins and fresh off his 2019 induction into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, legendary basketball coach Joel Claassen has announced that this will be his final season as head basketball coach of the Pius XI Popes.

“Thirty-four years ago, Dick Fischer tapped me to take over as head coach for the Lady Popes, entrusting me with building upon his success. I was blessed to coach some incredibly talented and driven student athletes over the years and I am really proud of what we were able to accomplish,” said Claassen.

“I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely ready to retire, but the time is right and we have identified the right person to take over,” he said.

In his 18 years as leader of the Lady Popes, Claassen accumulated a staggering record of 419 wins and 37 losses. Under his leadership, the Lady Popes enjoyed a 92-game winning streak, won 14 state championships achieving a national record of 12 in a row, celebrated 18 conference championships and five national tournament championships. They were ranked nationally for 18 consecutive years.

“I don’t think I would where I am today without Mr. Claassen,” said Shawna Nicols. “He was my basketball coach, my teacher and my softball coach for four years. The X’s and O’s were a given, but his real impact was being a great role model, building character and being a profound influence on the lives of young athletes. That’s the power of athletics. It’s so much bigger than the sport, and I learned that from him.”

After graduating from Pius XI, Nicols went on to play basketball for UW-Madison and later overseas. She is now the official DJ for the Milwaukee Bucks as well as an AAU coach.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have played for him and now consider him a great mentor and friend,” she said. “That’s what he does for all of his players. The relationship just continues and he stays connected.”

In 2002, Claassen took over the boys program and has amassed a record of 230 wins with 106 losses, seven conference championships and two trips to the WIAA state semifinals. In addition to coaching, Claassen has been a social science teacher at Pius XI for 40 years. He also is the head coach for the school’s softball program and will be inducted into the Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Hall of Fame in February. He will continue to teach and coach softball.

“Joel’s basketball coaching accomplishments are remarkable,” said Kevin Kehoss, Pius XI athletic director and head baseball coach. “His achievements place him among the country’s high school coaching elite. Maybe more impressive is the deep respect his former and current players have for him. Coaching provided Joel a platform to impart life lessons and he did so quite well. I learned a lot by watching him teach and coach and find ways to develop character in addition to talent.”

This announcement comes as part of careful succession planning for Claassen, who has been working closely with his successor for the past three years.

Current assistant coach Dan Carey will become the new varsity head coach in the 2020-21 season.

“We felt that having some time to transition the players over to Coach Carey would establish continuity,” said Claassen. “Dan is known and respected by players, parents and the basketball community and is the right person to lead the future of Pius XI boys basketball.”

A 2000 graduate of Pius XI, Carey has been part of the basketball coaching staff under Claassen for many years, most recently as Claassen’s assistant. This past summer, he served as head coach for the Wisconsin Glo, a professional women’s team in Oshkosh, and was undefeated in their inaugural season. Prior to joining the Pius XI advancement department in 2017, Carey was an assistant for UW-Milwaukee women’s basketball and former head coach for Sussex Hamilton. He works full-time at Pius XI and lives in Wauwatosa with his wife, Lydia, and their three young daughters.

“Dan is a positive role-model for students and players. Having him as Joel’s assistant for the past three years will mean a seamless transition for current players and be a confidence builder for future Popes,” said Pius XI President Jack Herbert. “There will be no gaps in leadership. I think it was smart and thoughtful planning on the part of Coach Claassen to make this announcement now instead of at the end of the season.”

“While it will be difficult to let go, I know my guys are in the best hands,” said Claassen. “I am looking forward to having a winter Friday night fish fry with my wife, Jean, after 50 years of playing and coaching.”

He will coach his final home game Wednesday, Feb. 26.