Zaila Avant-Garde Makes History At Scripps Spelling Bee

Photo: JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Zaila Avant-garde made history on Thursday (July 8) after winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee, becoming the first African American person to do so.

The 14-year-old Louisiana native seized the victory on the word “murraya,” twirling on stage under the celebratory confetti. The 8th grader also took home a $50,000 grand prize. The teen whizzed through words like “querimonious” and “solidungulate” beating out her peers.  

Prior to Avant-garde’s win, only one other Black champion existed in Scripps’ nearly 100-year history. In 1998, Jody-Anne Maxwell became the first Black winner of the Scripps Bee, representing Jamaica.

Check out Zaila's winning moment below.

Avant-garde is no stranger to making history, either. In addition to becoming the first African American winner of Scripps Spelling Bee in its 96-year history, the teen also holds three Guinness World Records for her talent in basketball. She holds the world record for most bounce juggles in one minute with four basketballs, the most basketball bounces in 30 seconds with four basketballs, and ties for the most basketballs dribbled at once by one person –– 6. 

On Twitter, Zaila shared a video about her aspirations to join the WNBA one day. 

“I think the more that the achievements and triumphs of women are promoted and publicized, the more likely it is that other girls all around the world will see that they can do any and everything that they put their minds to,” she said in the video.

This year’s spelling bee competition kicked off virtually in June with 209 spells. The final round was held at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. First Lady Jill Biden was in attendance to witness the spelling prowess of youth. 

The competition also included new rules including a word meaning round to test contestants’ vocabulary skills. Additionally, to break ties, a new “spell-off” rule was instituted that says spellers who remain at the end of the competition have 90 seconds to spell as many words as they can from a pre-approved list. 

There wasn’t a tie breaker this year, though, thanks to Zaila out spelling her competition.

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