Girl, 14, 1st African-American Winner of Spelling Bee

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July 10, 2021

Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old girl from New Orleans, has won the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee. She is the event's first African-American champion.

2021 Spelling Bee winner

Her winning word was murraya, "a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals." Chaitra Thummala, 12, placed second; coming in third was 13-year-old Bhavana Madini.

Avant-garde's victory was the more remarkable given her previous finish: In 2019 (when eight students shared in victory), she tied for 370th place. (Event organizers canceled the 2020 event because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The nationally televised final took place at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, near Orlando, Fla. The final was the culmination of a series of events that began with 209 national qualifiers.

The winner got a $50,000 cash prize, $2,500 and a reference library from Merriam-Webster, and $400 of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica.

The multi-talented Avant-garde is also a basketball wizard, having played since she was 5 and owning a handful of Guinness records for dribbling a basketball. She has a career aspiration of playing in the WNBA and has also appeared in an ad with Golden State Warriors phenom Stephen Curry.

As a result of her newfound fame, Avant-garde, her state's first-ever Spelling Bee winner, can already count on at least one higher education offer: Louisiana State University has offered her a full scholarship to its Honors College.

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