Johnny Kicks Cancer benefit returns

Mike Romano

For the third year, Houston, Texas's Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark will play host to the Rock the Cradle for the Johnny Kicks Cancer Foundation contest this Saturday. The heat sheets will be filled with by-invite-only competitors. The World Cup of Skateboarding-sanctioned tour stop raises funds expressly for cancer research, specifically childhood leukemia.

The "Johnny" is Johnny Romano, the skater who succumbed to leukemia last year at age 10. The namesake non-profit works to provide support and, claims its website, to "empower patients, families and doctors" involved in battling cancer.

On Saturday, gates open at 11 a.m as the competitors warm up. Caleb Gonzalez, who has helped organize the event since 2008, said there were no major changes in the format of the contest. He followed by saying that the highest run on the 'world's largest cradle' will earn a rider extra cash as an additional challenge. Skaters will be split into three divisions: pro men's and women's, and masters -- for the 38 and over crowd. The pro heats are up first.

The bowls and rails of Jamail park converge upon arguably the largest cradle in the United States. That might explain the attraction of skaters like Bucky Lasek and Jake Brown. The women's group includes 1998 Olympian and three-time X Games Vert gold medalist Cara-Beth Burnside and Mimi Knoop, who recently competed at the Boston Dew Tour stop and X Games 16 despite a troubled knee. Lance Mountain will shore up the masters accordingly.

The concrete park spans 30,000 square feet, and falls within the parameters of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Director Joe Turner told ESPN, "We're pleased to be hosting [the event] for the third year. The public has responded in an amazing way to both Johnny's story and the skating event itself."

Gonzalez agrees, "This is becoming a mainstay event ... bringing people together from all walks of life."

The entry fee is $10, or you can pay with an on-site blood donation to the Gulf Coast Blood Center. The Supercuts Rock the Cradle for Johnny Kicks Cancer Foundation is the last World Cup Skateboarding event in the United States before closing out 2010 in Berlin this December.

To read Johnny's story, go here and for details and scheduling visit rockthecradle.com.