Festa Italiana spreads Italian culture


Festa Italiana was hosted in Ybor City for the 18th year with the help of Joe Capitano Jr. The festival, celebrating Italian culture in Centennial Park, took place Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.

The celebration of Italian culture allows the community to come together to share the culture and support local businesses, while raising funds for the Italian Club of Tampa.

“It brings awareness to Ybor,” Alice Mueller, the Italian Club manager said. “Sometimes there’s a negative connotation attached to Ybor City, but really it’s a great place to come.”

The Italian Club begins preparing for the event in August each year and continues working up until the event takes place in April.

Over 15 thousand people attended each day. Every day offers unique events to draw in crowds.

The annual Bocce Ball tournament takes place Saturday morning, while Sunday morning kicks off with a Catholic mass in the Italian Club.

Following mass, Centennial Park opens up to the public where over 100 food and beverage vendors line up along the street to sell their unique dishes and drinks.

“It’s really a family event,” Gilda Ferlita Capitano, President of the Italian Club, said.

Though family is near to many Italian’s hearts, food is a close second.

“Food, Italian food, a bunch of other Italians they get it,” Andrea Diaz, a festival attendee said.  “When they see loud voices, big gestures, it’s welcomed.”

Gilda Capitano couldn’t be prouder of her son Joe Capitano Jr. who works hard to ensure this event lives on.

“Seeing so many people together, it’s really just gratifying,” Gilda Capitano said.


Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball’s youngest player prepares for national championship game

Adrian Powell is the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team’s youngest player. Powell joined the team in 2010, a year after he was injured.

Powell had never played basketball and relied heavily on his older, more experienced teammates to teach him the sport and provide him with support.

“Everything I learned is from them,” Powell said.

In his first year on the team, the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs played in the wheelchair basketball national championship game. Powell received first-team tournament for that game, and this put him on the recruiting radar.

Powell was recently offered a full scholarship to play basketball at the University of Texas. He is taking classes at Hillsborough Community College to get the credits he needs to start at the University of Texas by next year.

Powell and the Strong Dogs have been practicing every Tuesday and Friday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in preparation for this year’s national championship tournament in April.

Jose Rodriguez, who has been with the team since it began in 2008, feels confident that the team’s practice will pay off this year.

“With the same heart, same intensity, and hopefully we can get it done again,” Rodriguez said.

Before leaving for Kentucky to play in the national championship tournament, the Strong Dogs will get national exposure in their hometown. The team will play a scrimmage game at the halftime of the NCAA Women’s Final Four Championship at the Amalie Arena on April 5.

USF senior with passion for China wins Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Hiram Rios is a senior at the University of South Florida majoring in economics and international studies with a minor in Chinese. In his time at USF, Rios has received some of the most prestigious national scholarships, including his most recent, the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.

Rios was the first finalist for this scholarship in USF history, and he will begin the fellowship this summer.

“I’ll start work in the China office at the State Department this summer,” Rios said. “I’ll be working to coordinate a strategic and economic dialogue between China and the U.S.”

His interest in the Chinese culture began in 2008 when he traveled to the Beijing Olympics to play violin in an orchestra.

“As a 14-year-old at the time who had never left the country, to try and process all of this, it was a lot, and what it turned into was this obsession,” Rios said.

Rios has been able to merge his love of the Chinese culture with all of his scholarships. These scholarships gave him the opportunity to study abroad in China, fluently learn Mandarin, and teach English to Chinese students.

His passion and great work ethic are also seen while working in the Office of National Scholarships as a student assistant and peer leader.

“He takes initiative; he’s extremely hard working,” said Lauren Chambers, Interim Director of the office.

With the Pickering Fellowship, Rios will receive $80,000 to study international affairs in a graduate degree program of his choice. He will also receive one domestic internship and one internship abroad before starting his five-year post as a diplomat in the Chinese Embassy.

“It’s been an amazing feat for me,” Rios said. “I’m just so proud to be able to have this space to represent Puerto Rico, the Hispanic population, the Latino-American population in the State Department.”


Video: Leto High boys basketball on the upswing

The Leto High School boys basketball team hadn’t won more than four games in a season since the 2005-06 season. This immediately changed when coach Mike Heben came to Tampa from Cleveland in 2013 and the Falcons finished the season with a 5-19 record.

While coaching is widely considered the first attribution to the team’s success, the talent on this team should not be overlooked.

Leto’s standout player is junior guard David Jones, who is averaging 24 points and nine assists per game.

“I do everything,”Jones said. “I’m not just a scorer. I use my talent to lead by example for my teammates.”

Helping Jones with the leadership of the team is senior guard Joe Bergollo.

Heben recruited Bergollo off Leto’s baseball team midway through last season. Heben said Bergollo, who previously had no basketball experience, quickly stepped up and set an example for his teammates.

“I’m looking to win, and I think this attitude is contagious to my team,” Bergollo said.

This team has come a long way under Heben’s guidance. With a team of mostly inexperienced players, sticking to a playbook of 10 plays has allowed the Falcons to progress toward their goal of a winning season for the first time in eight years.

Jones said that the family dynamic of the team has been the driving force behind its progress.

“We’re a family, both on and off the court,” Jones said.

That chemistry has helped earn Leto a spot in the district tournament, which started Feb. 2.

This would be Leto’s first Class 6A, District 9 title since 1997.