Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Famu Band Returns to Field 2011 Hazing Death Led to Suspension

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Famu Band Returns to Field 2011 Hazing Death Led to Suspension

Article excerpt

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Nearly two years after a drum major's hazing death silenced the music at Florida A&M University football games, the famed Marching 100 band returned to the field Sunday with its familiar booms, drum rattles and other tones for the school's season- opener.

It was the band's first game appearance since a season-long suspension. The scrutiny following Robert Champion's 2011 death thrust the school into the national spotlight and led to more than a dozen arrests and the resignation of top officials.

As the band marched into the Florida Citrus Bowl, fans stood and cheered, and some had tears in their eyes. Alumni said they celebrated the reappearance of a school symbol whose absence caused a core of its fan base to stay away on game days.

"They did have to be punished -- if you want to say that," 1985 FAMU graduate Cedric Crawford said. "But it's great to have them back.

"It's almost not football season without the band -- especially at FAMU," he said.

Champion died in Orlando in November 2011 after he collapsed from what prosecutors call a savage beating during a hazing ritual. It happened on a bus parked in a hotel parking lot after FAMU's final football game that season.

At 126 members, the band that returned Sunday was much smaller -- there were more than 400 at the time of the suspension. The band's return began with the pre-game national anthem and continued with a halftime show that brought two packed decks of FAMU fans to their feet.

"It's a new day," FAMU band announcer Joe Bullard said as the performance began. "Size does not matter. The sound is clear."

But from afar, Champion's family viewed the performance as a rushed return for a band that they say has yet to transition away from a long-standing hazing culture.

"It's too soon for the band to be back on the field simply because there is nothing to indicate the safety of student is being considered at all," Champion's mother, Pam Champion, said in a phone interview from her home in Decatur, Ga. "I still feel there has been a rush to put the band on the field and that rush ... has to do with finance. They are putting profit before safety. …

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