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Florida marching band returns from suspension after hazing death

September 01, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • The Florida A&M University band performs in Orlando, Fla., during the school's season-opening football game against Mississippi Valley State. It was the band's first appearance in a football stadium in nearly 22 months after the 2011 hazing death of a drum major.
The Florida A&M University band performs in Orlando, Fla., during… (John Raoux / Associated…)

Something a little unusual happened at Florida A&M University's football game against Mississippi Valley State on Sunday: The marching band showed up.

In almost any other college football game, bands would be a normal feature of the game-day experience. But this wasn't just any game, because Florida A&M University's band is no longer just any band.

The so-called Marching 100, on a nationally televised ESPN broadcast, made its first return from a suspension laid down two years ago after a drum major's hazing death at the hands of fellow band members.

Under new restrictions, a smaller group than years past took the field to cheers at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, dancing, spinning and briefly twerking during one song.

The fallout from the death of Robert Champion, 26, resulted in the university president and band leader leaving their positions, the suspension of the band, and 15 band members getting charged with felony manslaughter and felony hazing.

Champion died of blunt-force trauma after fellow band members hit him with fists, drumsticks and other objects in a hazing ritual known as “crossing Bus C.”

The university has since instituted new anti-hazing restrictions across the campus, and interim President Larry Robinson lifted the band's suspension in June, leaving the timing of the band's return up to new director Sylvester Young.

“We embark on this season reflective of the circumstances that led to the band’s suspension and are optimistic that this is a new day for the band and the university," Young said in a university statement.

Champion's parents, Pam and Robert Champion Sr., told the Associated Press that they opposed the timing of the band's return. 

"I do believe that it's too soon," Pam Champion said. "I don't see anything that's different to ensure the safety of those students. Everything that has been put in place is not something that was done voluntarily."

The band has been a source of pride for the school, performing at presidential inaugurations and the Super Bowl.

Of the 15 students charged in connection with Champion's death, according to the AP, seven have accepted guilty pleas that carry probation and community service-related sentences, and an eighth has pleaded guilty but awaits sentencing.

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