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Florida college band marches for first time since hazing death

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida A&M University's marching band returned to the football field on Sunday, nearly two years after the beating death of a drum major in a hazing incident led to its suspension.

"Bands to make you dance. It's time!" an announcer said as the band kicked off a seven-minute halftime show at the school's home opener against Mississippi Valley State.

A moment of silence was held for Robert Champion before the game in Orlando, Florida. His death in November 2011 prompted an investigation into the band's history of abusive hazing and the resignation of several prominent school officials.

The size of the band that took the field was cut back to 126 members from 400 before the suspension. The reduction was among the changes ordered by officials at the historically black college, known as FAMU, after Champion's death.

Champion, 26, collapsed and died after a hazing ritual on a charter bus following a football game. Fourteen former band members were charged with punching, kicking and striking him during a ritual known as "Crossing Bus C."

The "Marching 100" was reinstated in June after the school took steps it said strengthened the university's anti-hazing policy. Hazing is illegal in Florida.

Champion's family, however, has questioned the school's decision to allow the band to start performing again, saying it has not done enough to ensure the safety of students.

The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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