HOUSTON -- The invocation during the annual Texas Italian-American Sports Foundation luncheon on Saturday drew laughs from the audience, which is OK, considering the local nine could use a few chuckles these days.
"Please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE give our Astros the strength to work through these tough times," Sam Listi said to an amused crowd at Damian's Cucina Italiana restaurant near downtown Houston.
The Astros could use a little divine intervention these days, after they extended their losing streak to a club-record-tying 11 games on Friday. Still, even a dreaded string of losses didn't detract from the festive nature of the Scholarship Awards Luncheon, which provides scholarship money to Italian-American student-athletes from the Houston area who are either headed to college or already enrolled.
The tradition of Astros players attending the event, and presenting the scholarship checks to the students, began 30 years ago. Back in the day, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell (dubbed "Jeff Bagwelli," an honorary Italian, for this event) and Craig Biggio were regular fixtures at the luncheon. On Saturday, Milo Hamilton emceed the event, and current Astros Jason Castro, Jose Altuve and Brian Bogusevic represented the club.
The TIASF also honors a sports figure at the luncheon every year. Saturday's honoree was Joe Tusa, former Houston Independent School District Athletic Director who was instrumental in integrating high school sports in the 1960s. He also played a leading role in developing and expanding the girls' athletic program, including the addition of basketball and soccer.
After 37 years with HISD, Tusa retired in 1989 with the longest tenure of any athletic director in HISD history.
Since its founding in '82, the Texas Italian American Sports Foundation has awarded nearly $600,000 in scholarships to deserving student-athletes.