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Trustees to Consider Fate of Florida A&M Marching Band

5:57 AM, May 14, 2012   |    comments
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Florida A&M University's Board of Trustees meets Monday to discuss the future of the college's popular marching band in the aftermath of the hazing-related death of a member.

Band director Julian White, who had been with the prestigious band for 40 years, stepped down under pressure last week.

He was placed on paid administrative leave shortly after the hazing death of FAMU Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion in November.

Authorities say Champion, 26, was badly beaten during a hazing incident on a band bus following a football game in Orlando. He died within an hour of the attack.

The ritual, called "Crossing Bus C," is an initiation process in which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle of the bus while senior members assault them, according to some university band members.

An autopsy found "extensive contusions of (Champion's) chest, arms, shoulder and back," and "evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat."

Thirteen people have been charged in connection with Champion's death, 11 are facing felony hazing charges and two others are charged with misdemeanor hazing.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) also is investigating "financial irregularities" involving the band.

White's resignation last week came days after FAMU President James Ammons told the trustees in a letter that about 100 band members were not enrolled at the school during the fall, CNN affiliate WCTV reported.

Of the ineligible band members, 51 of them and one cheerleader made the fatal trip to Orlando. All received a daily allowance for expenses.

"We are looking into per diems claimed by individuals as part of the band trips," Gretl Plessinger with the state's law enforcement department told WCTV.

The band has been under suspension following the incident and the resulting investigations.

Champion's mother, Pam, has called for it to be disbanded.

"They need to clean out the filth to move forward. How can they allow the band out there?" she said last week. "They haven't done anything to safeguard students -- certainly not my son. My son was murdered."

But Ammons, the college president, said in a letter last week he was considering reinstating the band.

"I have asked the Internal Crisis Management Team to speak with our supporters, such as faculty, student leaders, the alumni, the boosters and the Athletic Department ... to hear their input about the conditions for bringing the band back," Ammons wrote.

University System Chancellor Frank Brogan argues against reinstatement, saying too many questions remain.

"Reinstating the band prior to these issues being resolved would side-step efforts under way, which could impact the band's long-term survival," Brogan said in his response to Ammons' letter. "Reconciling these and other issues under investigation will ensure that the institution's operational priorities and controls are in place."

Throughout the school's history, the Marching 100, which incorporates dance moves into traditional marching formations, has been a source of pride for the school. It has played in inaugural parades for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and in several Super Bowls.

In 1985, the band won The Louis Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy, awarded annually by the John Philip Sousa Foundation to "collegiate marching bands of particular excellence."

The band's website bills the Marching 100 as "The Most Imitated Marching Band in America."

As recently as last week, White, 71, had asked for full reinstatement as director of the famed university band. His attorney, Chuck Hobbs, said last week that White had tried to root out hazing for the past 22 years.

Champion's death prompted the university board of trustees to approve an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate.

The death brought renewed public scrutiny to the practice of hazing, which some students have contended has gone on for years despite what the Tallahassee university said were efforts to stop it.

CNN

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