This High Flying Former UT Cheerleader Is Giving Back



Characteristics, January | February 2023


January 1, 2023 at 7:00 a.m. |

On a hot day in September 2016, Amy Porter donned her Texas cheerleading uniform and headed to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to cheer on the University of Texas Longhorns against UTEP Miners. As she walked down the field alongside her former teammates, the cameras quickly turned and focused on Porter and his team. What the photographers surprised was that Porter caught his daughter, Morgan Baker, then a sophomore, already clapping on the sidelines. After a quick hug and a look of utter disbelief from Baker, Porter picked up a pair of pom poms and joined her to become the first mother-daughter duo to cheer together at a UT game.

It had been over 20 years since Porter donned the iconic fringe, and around that time, the former Texas Cheer & The athlete Pom had started a family and launched a multimillion-dollar fintech company called Affinipay in 2005, which helps law firms accept direct credit card payments from consumers for legal services. The Austin-based company is used in more than 60,000 U.S. law firms and processed a record payment volume of $18 billion in 2022, according to Porter.

Her success in tech, says the entrepreneur, is as much about the skills she learned as a member of Cheer & Pom as she did in the College of Natural Sciences, where she earned a degree in merchandising in 1995. Those skills also inspired Porter to help start a Texas Exes Cheer & Pom Alumni Network and create an endowment to help 10 Cheer & Pom captains and leaders with scholarships. This is the very first gift of its size intended for sports.

“The real unique and special thing about the Cheer & Pom Alumni Network is the support of Amy Porter. Not all of our networks or chapters have such financial support,” says Catherine Flores, Chapters and Networks Manager for Texas Exes.

Flores notes that Cheer & Pom already had a strong and organized alumni community — perhaps unsurprising considering they’re cheerleaders — but Porter’s gift helped make it official. He also issued a rallying cry for his fellow alumni to cement the Cheer & Pom’s legacy for future generations.

“The network is not only committed socially, but also to giving back,” says Flores. “They want to be able to meet equipment needs and create a space where the team can have consistent practices.”

Porter first fell in love with cheerleading in middle school when a kid’s self-proclaimed “suicide bomber” started doing handstands in the seventh grade. She grew up in a military family and spent most of her childhood moving around the southern United States before landing in San Antonio for high school. (“When you’re in the military,” Porter jokes, “all roads naturally lead to San Antonio.”)

After receiving her acceptance letter to UT—a good thing, since it was the only school she applied to—she landed on the cheer squad, a decision that shaped the rest of her life. life. Like most sports, cheering required a significant time commitment from Porter, who drove to campus to practice at 6 a.m. from a small apartment on Riverside Drive where she paid $150 $ per month rent to sleep with two roommates she knew from San Antonio.

“I didn’t know about West Campus — I didn’t know that was a thing,” she says. “And I couldn’t afford to live in dorms.”

Porter paid for college using student loans and often working three jobs at once to make ends meet. Despite her workload both in the classroom and outside, Porter remained committed to her sport, finding not just purpose, but community.

“For me it was really about what would happen during the week, not just on game days. 6 a.m. practices, late nights, everything in between is what really defined my college experience,” Porter says. “Two of my closest friends are now girls that I’ve cheered with… [Cheer] changes the trajectory of your life a lot. Who are these people you meet? [What] are these experiences?”

Cheer also changed the direction of her professional career. Porter spent his early twenties selling uniforms for Varsity, a company that makes cheerleading and band uniforms. As she traveled through South Texas to visit different clients, Porter carried around fax machines and credit card machines to help with transactions. His experience helped Porter focus on a unique hole in the consumer payment market, which sowed the seed to eventually launch Affinipay in 2005. Its Westlake headquarters, which shares a campus with Samsung and Spiceworks, among other large businesses, boasts burnt orange accent walls, UT-themed meeting rooms, and rally-style everyone get-togethers that Porter organizes for its roughly 500 employees.

Building a multimillion-dollar business as a single mother raising two children may seem like a monumental task, but Porter says time management and fierce dedication were things already instilled in her from her days at UT.

“People don’t realize it takes so much time, so much commitment,” she says of being a Cheer & Pom athlete. “You live it, breathe it. When you are in the program, it becomes your priority. Adding later, “Most kids who go through the program have a very similar experience.”

Porter got a taste of what young athletes go through today while her daughter was part of UT’s Cheer & Team Pom from 2015 to 2019. Inspired by her mother, Baker started cheering in grade school and set her sights on the University of Texas at a young age.

“I joke that in grade school I thought [UT] was part of the school district,” Baker says. “We grew up going to every home game – it was a big part of our life.”

Twenty years after her mother donned the burnt orange skirt, Baker found herself a second-generation member of Texas Cheer & Pom. The thing that had shaped her mother’s college years so much was now going to shape her experience as well.

“[My mom] really thinks that — and I also think — [that] the Texas Cheer program is super unique in that we’re really ambassadors for the university,” says Baker, who is now a real estate agent at Gottesman. , based in Austin. Residential Real Estate, owned by Laura Gottesman, BS ’85, Life Member. “Learning to network, to hold yourself to a different standard, it really teaches you that.”

Baker says that while much of what the program is known for — leadership opportunities, business development experience — has remained the same, the Spirit Squad, made up of Texas Cheer & Pom and UT’s Hook ‘Em mascot program has seen remarkable growth over the past two decades. Yes, cheerleading in the mid-1990s featured pyramids and flips, but the culture changed in the early years to include the high-flying mix of gymnastics and gravity-defying stunts that it is today. Pom athletes saw a similar pivot as they transitioned from rah-rah rally girls to professionally trained dancers and performers. Even Hook ‘Em’s responsibilities grew. The demands on the mascot increased along with the rest of the team, making several students responsible for his appearances. (Note: some people, including assistant coach Andy Pendelton, remained silent when pressed for a number of hooks that exist. Less secret sources revealed there were five.)

Program responsibilities have grown to include 102 members responsible for making over 200 appearances a year, but the team is still largely responsible for funding its own uniforms, flights, equipment and finding space for its four times per week. practices (they’re also required to do at least two weightlifting sessions a week, notes head coach Blair Brown). Before Porter got involved, team captains often struggled to find space for the team, which is split between the all-female cheer squad, co-ed squad, and Poms. Sometimes Cheer & Pom would be left training outdoors while the teams they cheer on drilled in temperature-controlled gymnasiums.

Working with Texas Athletics, Porter has worked hard to ensure the team has a cohesive training space in a flexible gym inside DKR, creating the kind of consistency athletes need. and allowing them to focus on things outside of encouragement, like their studies. As UT’s reputation as an elite university has grown, so have the academic demands placed on student-athletes.

“It used to be the top 10 percent for automatic high school admissions and now it’s the top 6 percent. They’re really bright, driven, smart students,” says Brown. “They’re all really passionate about what they do here, and then they’re all really athletic.”

You only need to stop by a practice on Monday at 7 a.m., a time when it’s impossible to believe anyone could tie their shoes let alone throw themselves 20 feet in the air, to see this athleticism in action. ‘attach. As the all-girl White Squad practice stunting in a corner and the mixed Orange Squad perfects the boy-girl pyramid, a feat that sounds terrifying but ultimately reinforces the belief that if we catch our friends before we they don’t (literally) fall off, then maybe you’ll be fine. Most of the young women on the team cheered, gymnastic or danced for years before heading to UT. Few young men, however, have experience in joy. Instead, the team tends to spot buff students on campus and then invite them to try out for the team. (Brown says it can take a while to convince them to show up for practice, but once they do, they almost always stay. “They realize the athleticism it takes and that it’s harder than they thought, and then they get addicted,” she says.)

But the practice is not perfect. It’s filled with sweat, tears, and concussion protocols after a girl acting as a base is hit in the head by a flyer during a pyramid routine. After 15 minutes of questions, the athletic trainer is assured that the base is correct and lets her return to the mat.

What percent grade is a D+?

Despite the athletes’ weekly commitment to more than 10 hours of training, gym sessions and attendance at football, basketball and volleyball games, Cheer & Pom is designated club. Unlike many schools, including the University of Alabama, University of Tennessee, and Texas Tech, Cheer & Pom does not fall under Texas Athletics and therefore is not technically considered a sport. Although the team enjoys certain perks, such as access to the Sports Dining Hall and priority registration, a perk that helps students create a schedule that accommodates practice and games. Before, Cheer & Pom had to sign up for classes with non-athletes, which made it difficult to create a convenient schedule for practices and games.“With our schedule, if you have a class during practice, you miss everything. And class comes first, you come here to go to school. But we can’t just throw you out on game day – it’s dangerous,” Brown says. “You wouldn’t put a football player on the pitch without training.”Texas Cheer & Pom may never have his own dedicated ESPN GameDay (although they’re often featured when the TV show comes to Austin), it’s the small changes that have a big impact: dedicated practice space, consistency, early enrollment and financial freedom that Porter did not have as she worked three jobs to complete her education. Earlier this year, the Texas Exes hosted the Scholarship Dinner, a banquet where Porter’s endowment recipients were able to spend the evening with her and Brown. Watching the evening unfold, Brown says she found herself holding back tears as she realized the magnitude of the gift.
“Amy’s impact on the program – there’s so much to do and do and her drive to lead it…I just want to make sure people understand the effort she puts into the campus as well as everything what she does, [like] running a business,” Brown says. “Those are the kind of people this program produces.”Though decidedly wiser when asked about his impact on the program, Porter agrees with the caliber of alumni created by Texas Cheer & Pom and wants to make sure it continues. “My life was spent in Texas. And I know it sounds crazy, but it gave me this belief that I can do anything [and] the skill to do it and never look back. The Kids Who Follow the program now, I want them to feel that,” she says.Before starting Affinipay, Porter was a single mother raising two children, carrying credit cards and fax machines to sales meetings when she saw an opportunity. She didn’t have an MBA, but she says she wanted her business idea to work. And he did. Twenty years later, she sees a new opportunity to help bring Cheer & Step into the next generation by launching a new group of leaders and ensuring the sport is respected. And there is a good chance that she will succeed. After all, if anyone can do it, it’s the same kamikaze seventh grader who performed handstands on a challenge and kept going back.
CREDITS: Buff Strickland; Courtesy of Amy Porter, Texas AthleticsItems should be placed in a plastic bag showing the registry serial number, location found, date, name of person who found the item, etc. Valuables such as jewelry, cell phones, wallets, laptops, iPads, etc. must be stored in a locker. .Percentage
Classification by letterGrade points67 – 69.9%
D+1.364 – 66.9%

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