Multi-Talented 14-Year-Old Zaila Avant-Garde Makes History At National Spelling Bee

(Screenshot/Scripps National Spelling Bee via YouTube)

Andrew Jose Contributor
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A 14-year-old New Orleans, Louisiana, girl became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Zaila Avant-garde won the 93rd edition of the competition after spelling the word “murraya” correctly, according to a video of her winning moment released by Scripps. Murraya is the name of a tropical shrub or small tree.

The $50,000 top prize now belongs to her.

The first black contestant to win the competition since the 1998 victory of Jamaica’s Jody-Anne Maxwell, Avant-garde is also the first contestant without South-Asian descent to win the contest since 2008, according to the BBC and Reuters. (RELATED: CNN Forces 12-Year-Old Spelling Bee Champ To Try And Spell ‘Covfefe’)

An animation of confetti and the words “May the 4th be with you” appeared on the screen when the word “murraya” was googled on Friday.

Google Animation


To get to her victory, Avant-garde had to spell out other complex words such as velarium, ancistroid, fidibus, and retene correctly, according to her profile on Scripps’ website.

Her spelling bee career goes back to when she was 12, reported New Orleans outlet The Times-Picayune. On her 12th birthday, Avant-garde reportedly asked for an entrance into a spelling bee competition as a birthday present. Since then, she had been striving towards winning the Scripps Bee, the outlet reported.

“[Scripps is] the pinnacle of what we’re working toward,” Avant-garde told The Times-Picayune. “Scripps is the spelling bee. It’s the one with the $50,000 prize, and it’s on TV. That’s the most prominent bee by far.”

She had participated in the 2019 edition of the bee but failed to reach the finals. The organizers then canceled the 2020 edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after which she won the debut edition of the Kaplan Online Spelling Bee, bagging the $10,000 grand prize, according to The Times-Picayune.

Despite her success, Avant-garde considers spelling to be her side project, with basketball as her main focus. The Louisiana girl has set three basketball-related records in the Guinness Book of World Records, according to ESPN. The records include the most number of juggles in a minute with four basketballs, the most number of dribbles in half a minute with four basketballs, and the most number of basketballs dribbled by one individual at the same time.

She featured in an advertisement with Stephen Curry, the BBC reported.