Neil Warren stands beside a host of trophies in the new display case
Neil Warren fills box after box with trophies shortly before the old Reeves Building was razed.
Forensics trophies come out of storage
It's been a long time coming.
The fruits of labor of the once amazingly successful College of Eastern Utah Forensics Program have been locked away in boxes and storage in the attic of the SAC building on the USU Eastern campus ever since the old Reeves building was torn down years ago.
With a new building beginning to rise on that old location, the trophies, plaques and other memorabilia of that time have emerged in new display cases that are in the foyer of the Western Instructional Building on the USU Eastern campus.
The trophies represent a forensics program that is almost legend. A small sampling shows team trophies from every year from the mid 1950s until the mid 1990s. The names on those trophies run the gamut from local people to those from far away places. The places the trophies and plaques were won include such exotic names as Sunset Cliffs Classic, Red Rock Classic, Governors Cup Invitational, Community College Sweepstakes, Rocky Mountain Invitational, and the list goes on and on.
But the shiny pieces of metal, wood and plastic that now inhabit the showcase are about people, not things, places or events. Carbon College and later the College of Eastern Utah, was feared in forensic circles in those years. And it just wasn't two year schools that had anxiety over facing the teams, in many cases the school defeated teams from many prestigious four year universities.
"We finally have them out where they can be seen again," said Neil Warren who coached many of those teams to victory after victory for over 40 years as he stood by the new cases filled with names of his former students.
It is a legacy that could easily have been forgotten except by those that participated if not for Warren's driving ambition to get them into a place where they could be seen once again and the concern that Chancellor Joe Peterson has for the colleges storied forensics history.
Warren is well known in the community for his work with theater and in the state and nation for his ability to take forensic teams from a small junior college few had ever heard of, to national prominence. There are well known people that have emerged from the community here, such as J. Bracken Lee and Rex Berry. But in some circles Warren is better known.
After graduating from Carbon High School, Warren went on to Carbon College. After graduation there he went to the University of Utah. His senior year in college he decided to take a quarter off and work (he had been working for W.W. Clyde Construction). The draft board spotted the time he took off so he got drafted with one quarter of school left to attend.
That was during the Korean War, and the government was looking for everyone they could to fill the military ranks. Warren, who had been a television/broadcast journalism student suddenly was thrust into the Army. However, not understanding well what he was majoring in, the Army put him in the signal corps. He never went to Korea, but instead spent time at a camp in California and then Fort Sam Houston in Texas. A year and 11 months later he got an early discharge so he could go back to school.
Warren finished his work on his bachelor's and then went onto to work on his master's degree. He intended on going into radio and television broadcasting, but then he got a call from Aaron Jones, the president of Carbon College in the mid-1950s.
"He asked me to come and teach at the school," said Warren. "He said 'Give it a try, you might like it'."
He liked it so well that he ended up teaching at the college for a total of 43 and a half years with the exception of teaching two years at Carbon High (before the college and the high school were divided in 1959). He also spent a year teaching as an assistant professor at the University of Utah and another year at the University of Arizona.
While teaching became his love, his passion became forensics. A forensics standout when he was in high school himself, Warren, as the coach, took Carbon High to 12th, sixth and finally a third place finish in the state at a time when all the high schools in the state competed with each other regardless of size.
In 1961 Warren began coaching debate at Carbon College. He worked on building the program and by 1966 the team found themselves ranked sixth in the nation in the junior college rankings. By 1968 they had moved up to third. One of the best teams in the west, they were successful against national competition in dozens of debate meets around the country.
But beyond the junior college ranks they often competed against the big boys, meaning universities from the Ivy League to the west coast. Often when they won in tournaments where four years schools competed along with junior colleges they would place first in junior college bracket and place third in the four year school category.
It was at that time that the schools trophies began to multiply faster than the school could build trophy cases for them. In 1967 the team won 54 championship and individual trophies for the year, a record no one thought would ever be topped. But that record was broken many times after that. In 1992, for instance, the schools forensics team won 272 trophies and the next year 273.
"It got to the point where there was no where to put the honors the students had won," said Warren. "As I discussed it with administration they suggested that from that point on we give the individual trophies won to the students that won them and only keep the team trophies."
In the time Warren worked with the forensics department, the school won 24 first place awards, four second places and 12 third places. At one point the program was ranked the 12th best program (all schools combined) in the nation.
"I was always so pleased and proud of CEU's debate team," he stated. "When people asked me how we did it I just told them there were three things we did that made us winners. First we gave them the skills and the training to do it. Second, I expected them to win, and they knew it. Third, we always emphasized that they had to work hard to meet those expectations."
While Warren led the students it was the students themselves that did the heavy lifting and Warren knows that despite people talking about what a great forensics coach he was.
"We had a lot of fine students who worked hard," he said. Many of those students went on to successful careers in many areas of expertise.
So despite the fact the school has not had a forensics team since the late 1990s, this shrine to the program, to the students and their coaches shows a time when little CEU was a powerhouse for years in a competitive program.