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FAMU's Marching 100: The Road To Recovery

Florida A and M University’s famed Marching 100 band is no longer on suspension. The band was suspended as a result of the hazing death of a former drum major in 2011. While some say the band is not ready to get back on the field, others say it’s time for the University to move forward.

In 2010, the Marching 100 band, playing Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” – kind of ironic given the events that would unfold a year later.

That's because after a hazing incident caused the death of former drum major Robert Champion in 2011…the music did stop.

“I was more surprised than anything. I was surprised to hear that that had happened. I was just in shock. That’s all…that’s it…,” said 21-year-old Brianni Lundy.

Lundy is a returning sophomore at Florida A and M who plays the piccolo. She played in the Marching 100 before the band was suspended and says she’s relieved the suspension has been rescinded…

“Man, I’m very, very happy that we are finally officially back and I just can’t wait to get back on the field and start practicing and get it together,” added Lundy.

Others, like Marching 100 Band Alumni Association President Victor Gaines, agree the band is ready. Gaines played in the band for eight years, even serving as its head drum major.

“I think it will help the spirit. We were a University that was without music for a very long time. Music is a part of the university and a part of us, and we like that. That’s one of the things that keeps us upbeat, it keeps us going. And, so hearing that again, I think it will do wonders for the University, as well as the admissions, the student population, we’ll have more students coming in," said Gaines.

But, when the band members go back to play for the Marching 100, things will be different.

For example, there are now limits on band practice hours as well as limits to the number of semesters or years someone can participate as an active member of the band.

And, interim President Dr. Larry Robinson says that’s reflective of the work the school has done to implement several anti-hazing procedures, like an anti-hazing tour presented to potential in-state music students, on-campus forums, and the hiring of a new hazing czar.

“Considering all of the measures we have put in place, I believe that this constitutes what I’ve been saying for the last several months, the right conditions to lift the suspension of the Marching 100,” said Robinson.

Robinson says the tough new measures are already having an impact. He points to suspensions of a number of campus groups because of suspected hazing activity.

“And, what that action shows is when that does present itself legitimately, we are taking swift and prompt action. We all know that you have administrative infrastructures, policies, and procedures, and then you got to get to the issue of changed behavior. Part of changing behavior is ensuring that those who might not quite get it that we are very serious about it and when and if it rears its head, we will take the appropriate action,” Robinson added.

But, not everyone believes the band should get back on the field. That includes Robert Champion’s mother Pam. In a press conference following the announcement Thursday, she questioned the motives behind FAMU officials lifting the band’s suspension, given its history.

“They took the steps of putting the band on the field anyway for the dollar. So, there’s no other way to think about the fact that you’re putting dollar value over students value because this is a history,” said Pam Champion.

The person in charge of rebuilding the band is Sylvester Young, the band’s new director. A 66-year-old FAMU alum, he succeeds Julian White, who resigned along with then-FAMU President James Ammons in the wake of Champion’s death.

“The University has put a lot of things in place. There’s a process we’ll go through with every student. And, so I’m thinking in time the culture of the band will change and hopefully, when the changes, the band will be what it should be because this band is very important to this University, the state of Florida, and the city of Tallahassee,” said Young.

So, will the major attraction be back in Fall for FAMU Football games?

“You know, the first step is number one, they’re going through the process—that is to hire a director. I’m here. And, the second step of course is to lift the suspension—that’s happening now. So, we’ll see. We’ll see. We’re moving in the right direction,” added Young.

While it’s uncertain whether the band will play in the Fall, interim President Robinson says he’s leaving it up band director Young to decide when the Marching 100 is ready for public performances.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.