Teen Zaila Avant-garde, 14, becomes first black girl winner of National Spelling Bee after spelling ‘murraya’ correctly

A TEENAGE spelling phenom made history on Thursday by becoming the first black female winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee – after nailing a crazy final word.

Zaila Avant-garde, 14, of Harvey, Louisiana, dominated the near-century-old competition and was treated to a ticker-tape shower on stage after correctly spelling the word “murraya” in the last round. 

ReutersZaila Avant-garde of Harvey, Louisiana made history becoming the first African American to win the 96th Scripps National Spelling Bee[/caption]

GettyZaila coasted to victory lane correctly spelling the word “Murraya” which is a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees.[/caption]

ReutersThe 14-year-old adds National Spelling Bee championship title to her Guinness world records dribbling multiple basketballs[/caption]

Zaila is the only African American girl to claim the championship title and will take back to Louisiana $50,000 in cash and prizes for her spelling prowess. 

Before Thursday, Jamaican Jody-Anne Maxwell etched her name in the history books by beating the competition as the first black winner back in 1998.

She was mindful of the moment.

“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,” she said.

APThe only word that had her on her toes was “nepeta,” a genus of Old World mints[/caption]

ReutersHer historic victory was celebrated with a tickertape shower[/caption]

This year, nine of the 11 Spelling Bee finalists were of South Asian descent, and Zaila’s win for the US ends a winning streak of at least one South Asian champ each year since 2008.

The 96th annual championship on Thursday night was held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The win was one of many feats Zaila has earned in her short time on earth. 

APFirst Lady Jill Biden was in attendance at the Orlando, Florida competition speaking to the finalists about her bout with stagefright[/caption]

The youngster already notched three Guinness world records for being able to dribble multiple basketballs at once. 

In one, Zaila completed 255 “bounce juggles” with four basketballs in one minute.

She hopes to one day attend Harvard and then shoot hoops in the WNBA. If that doesn’t happed, the wiz is aiming to put her otherworldly brilliance to work at NASA.

Zaila coasted to victory lane correctly spelling the word “Murraya” which is a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees.

ReutersZaila is the only African American girl to claim the championship title where she outspelled 11 other finalists to win the competition[/caption]

The youngster bested Chaitra Thummala who spelled “neroli oil,” which is fragrant pale yellow essential oil obtained from sour orange flowers, as “nereli oil.”

She wasn’t flustered by the final challenges of “retene,” “crystalline hydrocarbon” or “fidibus,” a paper spill for lighting pipes.

The only word that had her on her toes was “nepeta,” a genus of Old World mints.

Being flawless with that one word had Zaila leaping for joy. 

“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,” she said. 

APZaila hopes to attend Harvard and shoot hoops professionally in the WNBA or work at NASA[/caption]

“I even knew it was a genus of plants. 

“I know what you are and I can’t get you.”

Zaila studied seven hours a day in preparation but she appears to have started only two years ago. 

Her surname Avant-garde was in tribute to jazz legend John Coltrane her father, Jawara Spacetime told the AP.

Last year’s Spelling Bee was scratched due to Covid-19. 

The event was also relocated from its traditional location outside Washington D.C. to an ESPN campus in Florida.

Competitors spelled virtually before the top 11 spellers competed in-person with only relatives permitted to be in attendance.

But one VIP was granted a pass. 

First Lady Jill Biden was in the crowd cheering on Zaila. 


The Northern Virginia Community College English professor spoke to the spelling aces about stagefright.

“In sixth grade I was my school’s spelling bee champion,” she said, according to the AP. 

“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,” Biden said. 

“The truth was that I was too nervous to go, so I have incredible admiration for each and every one of you.”