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Florida college reinstates marching band suspended after hazing death

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida A&M University reinstated its famed marching band on Thursday, more than a year and a half after the death of a drum major who was severely beaten in a hazing ritual.

The band, which has performed at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and presidential inaugurations, had been suspended since November 2011 when 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion collapsed and died after a football game in Orlando, Florida.

His death prompted an investigation into the band's long history of physically abusive hazing and the resignation of several prominent school officials.

Interim President Larry Robinson announced the lifting of the suspension of the "Marching 100" band, citing a number of steps the historically black college known as FAMU has taken to crack down on hazing.

"Considering all of the measures we have put in place, I believe this constitutes us having the right conditions," Robinson said.

When the band will perform again has yet to be determined, officials said.

Authorities said Champion died from shock caused by severe bleeding after being hazed. About 14 band members were charged with punching, kicking and striking Champion during a ritual known as "Crossing Bus C," a status symbol among band members.

Former FAMU President James Ammons, who resigned last July, suspended the band indefinitely after Champion died. Champion's parents later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

Pamela Champion, the victim's mother, criticized the school's decision to allow the band to perform again.

"FAMU recently suspended two sororities for multiple years of incidents involving hazing," she said. "Why is the band being held to a much more lenient standard, following the brutal hazing that resulted in the death of my son?"

After Champion's death, officials say the university has strengthened its anti-hazing policy, hired a compliance officer for the music department and a special assistant to the president to combat hazing, among other steps aimed at reducing violent behavior.

"As a result of these actions, it helped us respond more swiftly and decisively to deal with allegations of hazing in any university groups, emphasizing our zero-tolerance approach," Robinson said.

Last fall, there were 20 allegations of hazing in campus clubs and two organizations were suspended, he noted.

The "Marching 100" band, a source of pride for FAMU, has been widely credited with transforming the style of college marching bands by combining precision military drills with dance steps.

FAMU opens its football season on September 1 at Mississippi Valley State.

Newly hired band director Sylvester Young said he has not decided if the band will be ready for halftime shows that soon.

"We are looking at the faculty, who will be involved in the band under the new structure, the maximum and minimum sizes of musical units needed for standards of excellence we've grown accustomed to," he said. "As soon as the assessment is completed, we will announce when the first public performance is scheduled."

(Editing by Kevin Gray, Richard Chang and Bernard Orr)

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