Florida Classic Missing Classic Battle of the Bands

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  • The bands will not battle Saturday at half time during the Florida Blue Florida Classic clash between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University. The FAMU Marching 100  was suspended shortly after last year’s game when drum major Robert Champion Jr. died following a hazing incident on a band bus/

    This year’s halftime show at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium will feature the Bethune-Cookman’s Marching Wildcats with R&B singer Charlie Wilson. Organizers are hoping the show and the game on Saturday, along with an anti-hazing forum hosted by the colleges on Friday will draw big crowds to Orlando while also calling attention to the tragedy following last year’s event.

    But so far, ticket sales are trending significantly less this year for the event that brings together Florida’s two largest historically black universities, event organizers said.

    “We typically have huge walk up traffic for this event, and we are hoping to see that happen this year,” said Greg Creese, director of communications for Florida Citrus Sports Communications.

    The game will be good as always, and “we’re still going to have a heck of a half-time show,” Creese told BlackAmericaweb.com

    Bethune Cookman and FAMU are the two largest historically black universities in Florida. The annual meeting between the two rivals began playing annually in 1978, and the game has been played in Orlando each year since 1997, Creese said.

    The Florida Blue Florida Classic traditionally has been one of the biggest classic football games among historically black colleges and universities, Creese said, with alumni, fans, and supporters almost filling the 66,000-seat stadium to capacity most years.

    “There’s no way to tell why attendance trended a certain way until we survey people after the event,” Creese said.  But the loss of FAMU’s band from the halftime line up probably accounts for some of the decrease in sales so far.

    Leaders at FAMU benched the band weeks after authorities said Robert Champion Jr. died as a result of hazing. Since his death on Nov. 19th several other hazing incidents with the band and other campus groups have come to light.

    Eleven former students have been charged in connection with Champion’s death.  A FAMU spokesman  told BlackAmericaweb.com that because of legal restrictions, the university could not say publicly whether the charged students are still enrolled.

    Champion’s family filed suit against FAMU and the bus company being used to transport the students.

    Last week, FAMU offered the family $300,000 to settle its portion of the suit, saying that was the maximum the university could offer without state legislative action, according to CNN.  Chris Chestnut, attorney for the family, called the offer an insult and said the family would not consider it.

     “FAMU has offered the Champions the absolute maximum amount allowable by law,” FAMU attorney Richard Mitchell said in the CNN report. “Anything more would require a special act approved by the state legislature.

    “It is our hope that this settlement will be accepted and can in some way help in the healing process for the Champion family and the entire FAMU community.”

    FAMU has instituted several changes on campus in hopes of eradicating was has been described by many as a tradition of hazing in activities ranging from the band to modeling groups.

    In June of 2012, FAMU unveiled  a comprehensive anti-hazing plan and the university has launched developed a new anti-hazing website — StopHazingatFAMU.com —to further educate students, faculty, alumni and others about the dangers of hazing, foster an online community and encourage collaboration to help end hazing at the university, said Sharon Saunders, spokeswoman for FAMU. Starting with spring 2013, students will be required to sign an anti-hazing pledge attesting they will not participate in any form of hazing, Saunders told BlackAmericaweb.com via email. The pledge will be a prerequisite for any student to register for classes, she said.

    FAMU established an anti-hazing advisory board with experts who can provide insight and recommendations on hazing issues.

    The band is still on suspension, but whenever it returns, it will function with a new set of rules and there will be a new band director.

    Saunders said the university has narrowed to four its list of potential band leaders, with hopes of making a selection before the December holiday break.

    Under the new band rules, there will be four year cap on the number of years a student can participate, all band members must be enrolled full-time at FAMU, practice will be limited to 20 hours per week and no practices will be allowed without the supervision of music department staff. There will also be more rigorous academic requirements to ensure student progress, Saunders said.

    Officials from FAMU and Bethune-Cookman came together to form the Florida Classic Consortium to organize events for this weekend and raise awareness to the tragedy that claimed Champion’s life.

    Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson will ask for a moment of silence at the game and an anti-hazing video will be played during the pre-game. On Friday, hundreds of students are expected to gather from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Amway Center to hear Michael Eric Dyson, Chub Rock and others talk about the problems of hazing.

    Champion died on Nov. 19, and in his memory, FAMU students will gather at 7 p.m. Monday on FAMU’s campus for a remembrance ceremony, Saunders said.
     

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