Marching 100 members wary of Florida Classic after 2015

Photo Credit: Adlernico Brioche

The rivalry football game between Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman universities, The Florida Classic, is right around the corner.

Students, alumni, faculty and Marching 100 lovers are eagerly preparing for the trip, but some band members are apprehensive going into this year’s Florida Classic in Orlando. So apprehensive, that FAMUAN editors have granted anonymity to band members who have agreed to talk on the record about their concerns and the way they were treated at last year’s Classic.

Each band member shared a respect, appreciation and affection for Director of Bands Shelby Chipman. They believe he has the experience and know-how to guide the band. Two weeks ago, however, some Marching 100 members believed they weren’t being heard. As a result, they took their concerns to Twitter.

Several members of FAMU’s Marching 100 posted on social media, “how would y’all feel if the Marching 100 didn’t come to The Classic?” Students responded with outrage and sadness. Third-year public relations student Kristen Combs’ reaction was typical of many FAMU undergraduates.

“If they (the Marching 100) … didn’t go, then I wouldn’t go,” Combs said.

FAMU cheerleader Evelyn Ross said it would be disappointing.

“As a senior and a cheerleader I would not only be sad, but also disappointed if the Marching 100 didn’t attend the Classic,” Ross said. “They are a key part in keeping fans and the team hype. The FAMUly needs them.”

Chipman cleared the rumors by posting his own statement on Facebook, which largely quieted many in the group, but didn’t prevent their concerns.

“I would like to assure our beloved friends of the current FAMU Marching 100 that we will be performing in the Fla Classic battle of bands and football game,” Chipman’s statement said. “I, along with the band staff and students, certainly appreciate the wonderful support from our university leadership team, administration, faculty/staff, student body, alumni, and friends. God Bless everyone.”

Problems of the past: showering in the sink

Despite Chipman’s comment, band students wanted their concerns to be heard by FAMU’s top administrators. Band members posted on social media regarding how they were treated at last year’s Florida Classic. The band performed in the rain after the football game. Then, The Hundred made a quick turn around and headed back to Tallahassee, not giving band members what they felt was adequate time to bathe. They stopped at a local high school in Orlando to “shower.”

“Band staff had to accommodate a place for us to go, which was a local high school. The band director (at the high school), who was a FAMU alumnus, got his administration to provide accommodations to the students,” said a band member referred to as Thomas for this report. “We arrived to the high school (and) many of the restrooms were locked … because this was a last minute thing too.”

Going to the high school to shower didn’t work out. Instead of taking a shower, 230 band members went to the high school to take “bird baths” in bathroom sinks. Then they changed clothes. While band members said they appreciated the respite, one female band member said she felt terrible at the memory of bathing in the sink around her peers.

“The university is supposed to have somewhere for us to shower,” said a band member we call Heather, who said she remembered times when the band was provided showers. But that didn’t occur last year, she said. “All the girls ended up having to change in a band room and all the boys shared the bathroom and another part of the band room. Instead of us showering, the girls would go in the bathroom and use the sink water with wipes and stuff like that. Girls that were on their cycle … well you know.”

Band members are concerned because they feel they aren’t like many other bands. The Hundred is one of FAMU’s biggest recruitment tools, they argue.

“I feel like we are the biggest recruitment tool for the university just because people attach the name FAMU to the band so fast. Like that’s the first thing they can think of,” band member referred to as Malcolm said.

Does it all boil down to money?

In 2008, CNN deemed The Hundred the best band in the entire universe. With major performances at Carnegie Hall, the 2006 Grammy Awards, the inaugural parade for U.S. President Barack Obama and two performances at the Super Bowl in 2005 and 2007, how could this “top-class” organization go from five-star hotels to taking “bird baths” in sinks of high school restroom stalls?

Bryan Smith, FAMU’s special assistant to the president and university ombudsman, said it all boils down to money.

“In 2015, that year from my understanding, it was mainly funding issues. Unfortunately with a lot of our external programs, the funding may not be what it used to be when you have way more students,” Smith said. “That cuts back the funding of not only this organization but cheerleaders, and different organizations around campus.”

In ‘09 and ‘10 the Marching 100 received a combined total of $108,320 to accommodate at least 400 band members, FAMU concert choir, cheerleaders and coaches for lodging, meals and per diem allocations for the Florida Classic, according to public records obtained by The FAMUAN. Costs associated for the 2011 Florida Classic were not given.

After the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion in Orlando hours after the 2011 Florida Classic, records show there were changes in funding. The band was suspended during 2012 and not reinstated until summer 2013. Costs associated with The Classic in 2013 – after the band’s suspension was lifted – are unclear, according to records. Meals were budgeted for about $20,000. Lodging for 2013, however, isn’t listed on the records provided to The FAMUAN.

In contrast, in 2014, $25,110 was allocated for hotel accommodations and transportation for the marching band’s trip to The Florida Classic in Orlando for two nights on Nov. 21-23.

Is it the money or the history?

The FAMUAN issued a public records request Nov. 8, 2016 to the university’s office of communications. After numerous attempts, only a portion of the request was fulfilled. The FAMUAN hasn’t received The Classic’s financial information or contracts for 2015 and 2016.

Despite the lack of funding, Smith said the football team has quick turn-arounds on trips and the players’ hygiene needs are met.

“The football team comes back almost after every game. Being there an extra night doesn’t satisfy the hygiene of a student. The university wants the best for the students. So you don’t’ have to stay an extra night to have that (need) met,” Smith said.

Band members felt that explanation wasn’t enough. They also wondered if not staying an extra night, after performing during and after the football game, was another way of being punished in the aftermath of Champion’s death.

“Yes the football team does come to Tallahassee right after the Florida Classic, but they get to shower. They have locker rooms at the stadiums that are available to them to take a shower or change their clothes. We didn’t have that and we also have female students,” Thomas said.

Smith said he was notified of the situation at the 2015 Classic and he ensured it will never happen again.

“It’s disingenuous to make it seem as if the university did not care about students’ well-being. It’s very unfortunate and I can almost assure that won’t be the case this year,” Smith said about the incident.

A steering committee consisting of student band leaders; the university provost; the dean of the college of social sciences, arts and humanities; director of bands and the athletic director have been assembled to prevent any further situations similar to last year. Smith said the committee ensures communication between all stakeholders of The Marching 100.

“We wanted to have one central location where band communications or music departments’ communications were coming through. We wanted to make sure all stakeholders were there,” Smith said. “It really helps to steer the marching band in the right direction where it’s concentrated on student success in the classrooms first, then on the field, then also protecting the brand of the marching band.”

Despite their treatment at last year’s Florida Classic, band members are still hopeful of a bright future.

“We want to move forward,” Thomas said. “With this new administration – with the new president and provost – we just hope they see these bad things and are able to change. We want them to see that we’re not feeling like the top-class organization that they portray us to be.”