At HBCUs, the sound of Autumn is the sound of trumpets blaring, drumbeats in perfect percussion, majorettes in perfect synchronization, and proud directors announcing the fruit of years of their labor.
But at Florida A&M, it’s not happening this year.
Instead, people attending the football classics at Bragg Memorial Stadium will notice the palpable absence of the Marching 100, thanks to the fallout from the hazing incident last November that took the life of Robert Champion, 26, a drum major for the band. With that death came two resignations from faculty members, as well as university president James Ammons, and most important to fans, the suspension of the band, which remains under suspension and will not play for the 2012-2013 school year. Provost Dr. Larry Robinson has taken over as interim president.
Eleven members of the band were charged with felony hazing, and two others were given misdemeanor charges. Champion’s parents are suing the university, which is attempting to reach a settlement.
FAMU is celebrating 125 years and will begin its football season against Tennessee State University on Sept. 1. A press release from the school is trying to keep an upbeat focus on the Rattlers themselves, even boasting a new theme: “Our Team, Our Time. Respect the Game.”
In place of the band, halftime shows will feature Joe Bullard, long regarded as ‘The Voice of the Marching 100,’ and and old school vs. new school DJ set, plus A-List musical performances.
But the school has to convince alumni — organized into many local associations — and others who supported the school that it has moved past the deadly hazing incident, FAMU’s financial troubles, or its stagnating graduation rate, only 39 percent of students finish in six years, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Robinson, however, remains hopeful as FAMU launches its search for a permanent president to bring the school back to stability.
“Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a running start. We’re moving very aggressively in implementing that plan.”