Florida A&M beat Mississippi Valley State 27-10 at the Citrus Bowl yesterday in Orlando, but the big news of the day wasn’t the winning football team. Yesterday was the return of the Marching 100, FAMU’s infamous marching band, which was performing for the first time since it was suspended two years ago after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.
In a nationally televised ESPN broadcast, the marching squad was smaller but still scintillating, delighting the crowd at the Citrus Bowl with its usual array of hot songs and dance moves.
Champion’s death led to the dismissal of the university’s president and the band’s leader, in addition to the suspension of the band. Fifteen band members were charged with felony manslaughter and felony hazing.
Champion, 26, was killed by blunt-force trauma after he was hit by fists, drumsticks and other objects in a hazing ritual on the bus that the band called “crossing Bus C.” The university instituted new anti-hazing restrictions across the campus after the death. The school’s interim president, Larry Robinson, lifted the band’s suspension in June, leaving it up to new band director Sylvester Young to determine when it could return to the field.
Meanwhile, seven of the 15 who were charged have made plea deals that carry probation and community service-related sentences, another has a deal but has not been sentenced, and the other seven await trial, according to the Associated Press.
“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 statement.
But Champion’s parents, Pam and Robert Champion Sr., told AP they thought the band was returning too soon.
“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.”
There was a moment of poignancy at the start of the game when Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, led the FAMU football team onto the field as the honorary captain this season.
“It feels good just to be a part of that, man. I had a son that used to go to FAMU and Trayvon wanted to go to FAMU,” Martin said immediately after taking the field. “I’m good friends with coach [Earl] Holmes, the coaching staff . . . some of the kids on the team I even coached them in little league football, so it felt good to run out there with them.”