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FAMU Band Suspended: Pressure Mounting

Famu Band Death

GARY FINEOUT   05/10/12 09:13 PM ET  AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The longtime director of Florida A&M University's famed marching band announced his retirement Thursday, while a top state official urged the university to keep the band suspended while investigations continue into a drum major's death.

The band, its future clouded by the beating death of Robert Champion, appeared unlikely to take the field again anytime soon.

Frank Brogan, the chancellor of Florida's state university system, wrote a blunt letter to FAMU President James Ammons urging him to keep the band suspended. Ammons was expected to discuss the fate of the band at a special meeting of the university board of trustees planned Monday.

Meanwhile, Ammons disclosed more than 100 band members weren't even enrolled FAMU students at the time of Champion's death, a new revelation shaking the Marching 100 whose storied history included performing at Super Bowls and inaugural parades.

Solomon Badger, chairman of the FAMU board, said he hopes Ammons would announce he is keeping the suspension intact for the near future.

"I would like to hear him say the band is suspended indefinitely until sufficient time has lapsed and enough has been done to make sure that this doesn't happen again," Badger said. "The time to fix the band would not be while the band is on the field."

Former state Sen. Al Lawson, a FAMU alumnus from Tallahassee, said he believed Ammons was leaning toward keeping the band suspended.

"There is a considerable amount of pressure being placed on the university and the trustees about the band being able to perform in the fall," Lawson said. "But I think in the light of everything, though the university is going to have to go in a new direction."

Lawson also said long-time director Julian White's decision to retire instead of fighting to win his job back gives the university a chance to recruit new leadership for the band.

On Thursday, the 71-year-old White announced through his attorneys that he has decided to retire and spend more time with his family.

Last week, authorities announced 11 FAMU band members face felony hazing charges stemming from Champion's death in November. Two others face misdemeanor counts.

White's decision came the same week that Ammons told trustees that three of those facing charges as a result of Champion's case weren't FAMU students at the time of the drum major's death.

Ammons also sent a two-page letter to trustees explaining that at the start of the fall 2011 semester there were 457 people on the band roster, but it turns out that 101 of them were not students at FAMU. A total of 52 people – including 51 band members and one cheerleader – had been previously enrolled at the school but were not enrolled at the time of Champion's death.

Another 49 were listed as students at nearby Tallahassee Community College or Florida State University but they were not enrolled in a FAMU band class, nor did the university know for sure if they were enrolled at the other schools.

White's attorney contended that only those who presented band officials with a class schedule at the start of the fall semester were given a Marching 100 uniform. Chuck Hobbs, however, said it was not up to the Department of Music to verify the enrollment.

The developments come as state law-enforcement authorities continue to investigate the band's finances.

Ammons did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday, but his statement said he wished White "well in his retirement."

"Given his position as department chair and director of bands, we must focus on moving forward with changes to the music department and the marching band," Ammons said.

In his May 8 letter to trustees, Ammons explained that he is having the university "internal crisis management team" speak to faculty, students, as well as boosters and alumni about what conditions should be met before the Marching 100 can return.

Pam Champion, the mother of Robert Champion, has said that the band should be disbanded so the university can "clean house." She and the family's attorney contend there is a vast effort among students and others to cover up who is responsible for her son's death.

An attorney for Champion's parents said White's resignation was a step in the right direction.

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Michael Schneider contributed to this report from Orlando.

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Filed by Rebecca Harrington  |