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Latest death evokes night of severe hazing endured by former FAMU band member

They said the word "hazing" and Ivery Luckey's stomach dropped.

A member of Florida A&M University's marching band had died, and authorities said hazing may have been involved.

Luckey's mind flew to 1998, when he says he barely missed the same fate.

He remembers the pain, nausea, chills and terrifying diagnosis of kidney failure that followed a night of beatings by bandmates.

"I was like, 'Oh, wow. This could have been me,' " said Luckey, a former FAMU clarinet player, now 31, who received tens of thousands of dollars is a settlement over his hazing injuries.

Then he thought about 26-year-old Robert Champion, with whom he had become friends in their hometown of Atlanta.

Maybe he should have talked more with him about his ordeal.

"Maybe it could have been different."

Luckey joined FAMU's famed Marching 100 band right out of high school on a scholarship. His parents watched from the stands.

A year later, he started getting benched more than he played. From the sidelines he watched less-talented players without scholarships perform more often.

He started asking questions.

Soon Luckey learned the rumors were true: those kids had "crossed over" into elite groups within their instrument sections. Much like fraternities or sororities, the groups had special names, symbols and even T-shirts. They had status, and they got preferential treatment.

Luckey wanted to cross over, too. He asked friends who had made it over what he had to do.

They wouldn't tell. But Luckey figured that if they had gone through it, how bad could it be?

• • •

On a fall night, Luckey drove himself and a couple of band buddies to a darkened house on the other side of Tallahassee. When they opened the door, they saw guys they recognized.

"I was relieved," Luckey said.

But they were holding wooden paddles. And then came the licks. Ninety-eight to start, commemorating the year, then 97 more for the year before. Luckey had to count out loud. When he lost his place, they started over.

"They hit me a good 300 times," he estimates.

After that, female students slapped him in the face over and over again. Luckey wanted to drop out, but the guys beating him persuaded him to stay.

It was almost over, they said.

A few minutes later, they were feeding him crackers and soda to stave off his nausea. Luckey drove home that night shivering, with chills like a sudden flu.

He called his cousin, a respiratory therapist, after he urinated blood the next day. They went to a hospital. Even as doctors and nurses ordered test after test, he wondered what the fuss was about.

He woke up with a police officer at his hospital bed.

• • •

Twenty FAMU students were suspended after Luckey's kidney failure. He never went back to the band. The settlement money was nice, but he felt ostracized. As if he had violated a code of loyalty.

That's partly why he was so happy to call Champion a friend.

They got to know each other at the gym Luckey uses in Atlanta, when he's home from his investment banking job in New York. Champion was a handyman at the gym, saving up money to finish his degree at FAMU.

Luckey took his phone number and checked in with him from time to time.

When Champion reported that he was back in school, Luckey told him, "You know, you realized your dream."

Champion joined the band and made it to the position of drum major. Luckey thought about warning him, but he figured Champion knew what he was getting into.

Plus, making it to the senior drum major position probably meant Champion wouldn't need to worry about that nonsense.

• • •

He heard Monday that Champion had died. Luckey thought, certainly, it must be a tragic accident. Heat stroke or some awful medical condition.

Not hazing, he thought.

Then came Tuesday.

Latest death evokes night of severe hazing endured by former FAMU band member 11/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:47pm]
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