By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer
Amanda Rutland speaks few words. She has autism. But the senior class at Portales High School — which seems to have taken Amanda under its protective wing — know her by her smile, a winning smile that has gotten her elected Maypole queen.
Rutland, who is the focus of a Maypole documentary being filmed by her close friend, Phillip Harrell, will reign over the 79th annual winding of the Maypole on Monday and Tuesday nights at Portales High School.
Since she was in third grade, her mom, Karen, has dreamed of Amanda being a part of this elaborate, fairytale-like tradition which is almost unique to Portales. Only a handful of schools in the U.S. hold a winding of the Maypole, and none as elaborate or as long-running as the Portales one, which began in 1929. Girls dress in elaborate, pastel-colored, hooped dresses, and young men in tuxedos, as they perform this ballroom waltz that was once associated with pagan fertility rituals.
Amanda’s mom, who is not from this area, learned about this extravagant Portales tradition when Amanda was in third grade and said, “Amanda has got to do this!”
Her mom lost hope, however, when Amanda said she did not want to dance in Maypole. That all changed though, when Amanda’s teaching assistant, Bernie Cordova, informed Amanda about the Maypole queen competition in early spring and pointed out that the PHS Maypole queen traditionally does not wind the Maypole. The Maypole queen gets to choose a court and is given a special seat of honor where she presides over the event and watches as couples wind the maypoles.
Next thing Amanda knew, a full-blown Maypole queen campaign was under way. As soon as her fellow band buddies, including Heather Stroud and Keisha Christensen, learned she was in the race, they made cardboard tiaras that read “Vote for Amanda!” and they handed out miniature maypoles with lollipops.
“I was so excited when I won. It was really nice,” Amanda beamed. Amanda’s eyes lit up, too, when asked about her Maypole dress, which her mom described. The PHS Maypole queen, who is the only one dressed in white, also wears a full-hooped, embellished gown. Amanda’s gown, which she purchased in Amarillo, is studded with sequins and beads and lined with plenty of ruffles. As Maypole queen, she also got to pick the official Maypole colors of pink and purple.
Amanda’s friend Phillip went with her to pick out her dress and has been following every aspect of her Maypole experience, beginning with her campaign. Since Phillip is winding Maypole himself, his parents will film footage on Monday and Tuesday nights. But other then that, Phillip, an aspiring filmmaker, is putting together a full-length documentary on the friend he has known since first grade.
“Amanda is really well-known around school and is nice to everybody,” Phillip commented. He grew closer to Amanda when they both began band together in sixth grade and have continued in band, with Amanda playing the French horn. Phillip also has worked on a few projects with Amanda’s father, Neil, who is an instructor of music at Eastern New Mexico University.
Phillip began the documentary at the urging of Amanda’s mom and said he plans to enter it in film festivals.
Amanda’s mom said her daughter, who is an only child, is a good example of what people with autism can do and also of what schools are doing for students with autism.
“When Amanda was born in 1990, they found a rise in cases of autism, and education systems had to find a way to make room for these children,” Karen said. “We had a few problems early on. Amanda was in special education until third grade, and then we decided we wanted her to be in a regular classroom.”
Autism is a mental disorder which originates in infancy. It is characterized by self-absorption, an inability to interact socially, repetitive behavior and language dysfunction.
When Amanda made the transition into regular classrooms, Karen said that she was there with her in the early days because she wanted Amanda’s classmates to realize that she wasn’t being rude by not talking much. She also wanted them to understand Amanda.
“A lot of kids would tell Amanda ‘Hi!,’ but it took her a few years to start saying hi back,” Her mom explained. Karen said that Amanda opens up more now, especially to her close friends. She added, “Amanda has made a lot of progress because kids around her have been very accepting and open. Sometimes, it seems like if Amanda is a celebrity.”
At PHS, Amanda was active with the National Art Honor Society. She occasionally volunteers with her mom, doing work for Habitat for Humanity.
Amanda now plans to go to ENMU and major in digital animation.