Zaila Avant-garde: 14-yr-old becomes 1st African-American to win National Spelling Bee

Zaila Avant-garde is a basketball prodigy, holds three Guinness world says spelling is a side hobby for her

                            Zaila Avant-garde: 14-yr-old becomes 1st African-American to win National Spelling Bee
Zaila Avant-garde has won this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee (Facebook/Scripps National Spelling Bee)

A Harvey, Louisiana girl, 14, has made history becoming the first African American student winner in the 96-year history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The historic moment took place on Thursday night, July 8, when Zaila Avant-garde correctly spelled “murraya” — a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees. The event was attended by First Lady Jill Biden.

The basketball prodigy said spelling is a side hobby for her, but reports said she regularly practices it seven hours a day. Avant-garde, who has won three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls concurrently, hopes to play in the WNBA in the future. Before the start of the competition, Jill Biden congratulated the competitors and told them, “I wanted to be here personally to tell you that the president and I are so proud of all that you've accomplished.”


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The English professor at Northern Virginia Community College added: “In sixth grade, I was my school's spelling bee champion. I had a chance to go to the next level, but on the day of the regional competition, I told my mother that I was sick. The truth was that I was too nervous to go, so I have incredible admiration for each and every one of you.”

First Lady Jill Biden speaks at a Pop-Up Vaccination site at Ole Smoky Distillery on June 22, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

This year’s competition has taken place after a delay of one year due to the pandemic. Also, all precautions were taken to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Even all preliminary rounds were held virtually before 11 students were selected for the final round. All the finalists were called in person for the competition at an ESPN campus near Walt Disney World in Florida.


Who is Zaila Avant-garde?

According to reports, Avant-garde appeared to know the spelling of every word which was given to her by the pronouncer, Jacques A Bailly. The word “nepeta,” which means a genus of Old World mints, troubled her for sometime, but the genius managed to spell it out too. She said, “I’ve always struggled with that word. I’ve heard it a lot of times. I don’t know, there’s just some words, for a speller, I just get them and I can’t get them right. I even knew it was a genus of plants. I know what you are and I can’t get you.”

Avant-garde also spoke about her win as she added, “I’m hoping that within the next few years, I can see a little bit of an influx of African Americans, and not many Hispanic people, either, so I’m hoping to see them there, too.” The teenager’s coach is a 20-year-old Yale student, Cole Shafer-Ray, who was the 2015 Scripps runner-up. Shafer-Ray, who charges $130 for an hour, also coached the 12-year-old Texas girl, Chaitra Thummula, who competed against Avant-garde while the last few words were rattled off quickly between them.


As part of her win, Avant-garde received more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. It has been said that she won an online bee in 2020 and used the $10,000 prize to pay for lessons with her coach.