The parents of the FAMU drum major who was hazed to death said Tuesday that the university "needs to get its priorities straight" before the famous marching band can perform again.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Robert and Pamela Champion also questioned why Florida A&M University hired a new band director who acknowledged he was hazed while he was a FAMU student.
"I just don't feel like anything has changed," Pamela Champion said. "We're looking out for the safety of students."
Christopher Chestnut, the Champions' lawyer, said the drum major's parents spoke out because they were concerned by rumors the marching band would resume practice soon. The university has not announced any timetable for the band's return and new director, Sylvester Young, does not start his new job at FAMU until June 14th.
The Champion's son, Robert, 26, was beaten to death Nov. 19, 2011, during a hazing ritual on a charter bus parked at the Rosen Plaza hotel in Orlando, where the marching band was staying during the Florida Classic weekend. The Marching 100 had performed during the annual football game with Bethune-Cookman University at the Citrus Bowl and during a "Battle of the Bands" event at the Amway Center.
When he was introduced as the new band director earlier this month, Young, a 1969 graduate of FAMU and most recently the director of bands at Ohio University in Athens, vowed to change the hazing culture of the band.
He also recalled light-hearted hazing by upperclassmen who forced him to remove bright red socks. "We didn't call it hazing," said Young, who acknowledged that there probably were more serious hazing cases happening in the band as well.
Young also said he had a "whole host of ideas" about changing hazing traditions. The university also has insisted that it has put in place new internal controls to monitor hazing.
But Robert Champion, the drum major's father, criticized the university for hiring a new band director while it has an interim president and has not yet fixed all of its "accreditation problems."
"You should get your priorities straight," he said of FAMU. "The band isn't going to make or break the school. It's the students getting their degrees."
Four former members of the band have pleaded no contest to participating in the ritual that killed Champion, including fellow drum major Rikki Wills who will be sentenced June 7. Ten others are awaiting trial in the drum major's death.
Former FAMU band member Darryl Cearnel, 25, was set for arraignment Tuesday in Circuit Court, but submitted a written plea of not-guilty and waived his right to appear before a judge. He was added to the list of defendants when prosecutors beefed up charges to include a count of manslaughter in Champion's hazing death.
The Champions have sued FAMU, the bus company, the bus driver and the Rosen Plaza hotel for negligence and wrongful death. They have rejected a settlement offer of $300,000 from the university, whose lawyer has argued in court that Champion voluntarily participated in the hazing, an illegal activity, and should not collect damages from taxpayers.
Shudak@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6361.