Florida A&M University announced Tuesday it is hiring a new director for its famous Marching 100 band, a major step to eventually relaunching the band that was sidelined by a 2011 hazing scandal.
Sylvester Young, a FAMU alumnus and one-time director of the Ohio University marching band, is coming out of retirement to rebuild The Marching 100.
The band known for its marching appearances at presidential inaugurations and Super Bowls has been suspended since the November 2011 hazing-related death of drum major Robert Champion.
Larry Robinson, interim president for FAMU, said he tapped Young for the job of rebuilding the band because he has the experience and strong discipline to help the school decide when it's right for The Marching 100 to take the field anew.
Robinson could not say exactly when that might be, although he called the hiring of the 66-year-old Young a "critical" step. He did not rule out a return this fall. But he suggested that the band may come back initially as a smaller unit and play in the stands instead of performing one of its signature halftime shows.
"There's a number of ways you could get to the fall without what we are accustomed to," Robinson said.
Young said he doesn't want to rush the band back on field, saying he will first ensure the "culture" of the band has changed.
"We just can't put them back on the field as if nothing happened," Young said after his hiring was announced.
Young, who had marched at FAMU back in the '60s when it was led by Marching 100 founder William P. Foster, acknowledged that hazing likely occurred when he was at school. He said Champion's death has opened the eyes of many band directors nationwide about the need to crack down on hazing.
"Other schools are watching us very closely," said Young, who spent 21 years at Ohio University and also led bands at two other universities.
The hazing scandal that rocked the Florida university nearly 18 months ago led to the retirement of band director Julian White and contributed to the resignation of president James Ammons.
The scandal also had a severe financial impact with one estimate suggesting the scandal and the poor record of the FAMU football team cost the school more than $550,000 in box office revenue.
The school has instituted sweeping changes to battle hazing, including establishing new academic requirements for band members, and instituting a zero-tolerance policy on hazing that has prompted complaints from some students.
The university had planned to hire a new band director back in January but the finalist for the job backed out at the last minute. One of the main sticking points involved the structure of the job, which was changed after Champion's death. Young, who will be paid $105,000 annually, will not serve as chairman of the school's music department.
Young takes up the post in June.
He said the first thing he plans to do is screen the students now at the university and look at those who came into the music department last year as freshmen. He added that he does not want the band to return unless they are truly ready for it.
"We will not sacrifice a public performance for the quality and the image of the ensemble," he said.