Louisiana teen Zaila Avant-garde makes history at US spelling bee

Image: 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals
Zaila Avant-garde, 14, holds the trophy after winning the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on July 8, 2021. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: A teenage basketball prodigy has made history by becoming the first African American to win the US Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde from New Orleans, Louisiana, cruised to victory with the word “murraya”, a type of tropical tree.

To get to that point she had to spell out “solidungulate” and “querimonious”.

Despite practising for up to seven hours a day, the new sensation describes spelling as a side hobby – Zaila’s main focus is on becoming a basketball pro.

Zaila Avant-garde already holds three world records for dribbling multiple balls at once. She also has appeared in an advertisement with the NBA megastar Stephen Curry.

On Thursday, she saw off a field of 11 finalists to win the title and bagged a first-place prize of $50,000 at the event in Orlando, Florida.

She beat 12-year-old Chaitra Thummala of Frisco, Texas in the final round.

The Associated Press news agency reports, it was the first time since 2008 that at least one champion or co-champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was not of South Asian descent.

Earlier in the evening, Zaila had hesitated over the word nepeta, a herbal mint, but managed to spell it correctly.

The home-schooled teen told New Orleans paper the Times-Picayune: “For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words [per day], and that usually takes about seven hours or so.”

Zaila is the second black girl to win the tournament – Jody-Anne Maxwell, of Jamaica, was crowned champion in 1998 at the age of 12.

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