TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida A&M University's interim president lifted the suspension of its famous Marching 100 band Thursday about a year and a half after a drum major's death led to the departure of school leaders and reforms trying to crack down on brutal hazing in the band, fraternities and other groups.
The decision was criticized by the parents of victim Robert Champion from Decatur, Ga., who collapsed and died after walking down a gantlet of band members who beat him with fists and instruments on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a football game in November 2011.
"I don't think it's a problem that you can fix in just one year," Robert Champion Sr. said, noting that the problem has been going on for decades. "It is not the time to put that band back on the field."
Interim President Larry Robinson said the university has taking many steps to prevent and investigate hazing, including a revision to the anti-hazing and student conduct polices, student forums on hazing, an anti-hazing website, money to research hazing prevention and creating two new positions to address hazing.
"It has helped us to respond more swiftly and decisively to any allegations of hazing and any university group, emphasizing our board's policy of zero tolerance towards hazing," he said.
Pam Champion noted that there have been several hazing incidents at other FAMU groups since her son's death.
"We have to look at what has been done and whether what has been done is effective enough. They don't know. They've been forced to put something in place, but there is no proof that what they have in place ... is effective," she said. "I'd like to understand the rush to get that band back on the field. What is that real rush? What is your real priority here?"
The hazing scandal led to the retirement of band director Julian White and contributed to the resignation of former President James Ammons.
Last month the university hired Sylvester Young to rebuild the band. Young is a FAMU alumnus and one-time director of the Ohio University marching band. Robinson said he tapped Young because he had the experience and strong discipline to help the school decide when it was right time for The Marching 100 to return to the field.
Young said he was already holding rehearsals and he hoped, but didn't guarantee, that the band would be ready to take the field when the football season starts. The Rattlers open their season against Mississippi Valley State in the MEAC/SWAC challenge in Orlando on Sept. 1. Their first home game is Sept. 7 against Tennessee State.
"We've been working toward that for the past month," Young said. "We'll see. We're moving in the right direction."
About 14 band members have been charged criminally in the beating and several have pleaded no contest or guilty to reduced charges to avoid manslaughter convictions.
A group of students outside the press conference, including many in Marching 100 T-shirts, cheered loudly when the announcement was made, though most refused to comment when reporters approached them afterward.
Rattlers offensive line coach Edwin Pata said the return of the band should bring excitement to the field.
"I look forward to watching the band and then hopefully it can help our team with some encouragement and some extra motivation hearing them in the stands and their performance and what they do for the fan base," Pata said. "I'm excited about it."
Freshman Aleya Bradley smiled as she talked about watching the band, saying she has seen the Marching 100 many times dating back to her early childhood. She wasn't sure she would see the band this school year.
"I figured as if it's not going to be that exciting," she said. "But since the band will be back, my freshman year will be the best experience ever."
Young said the issue of hazing was being addressed with each band member in the hopes of ending the longstanding tradition.
"It's on everybody's mind," he said. "There's a process we go through with every student, and so I'm thinking, in time, the culture of the band will change and hopefully when that changes the band will be what it should be. This band is really important to this university and of course to the state of Florida and the city of Tallahassee."
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