Scripps National Spelling Bee 2021: Zaila Avant-garde becomes first African American winner
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By Lauren Aratani, The Guardian
Whether dribbling a basketball or identifying obscure Latin or Greek roots, Zaila Avant-garde doesn’t show much stress.
The 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana, breezed to the championship at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, becoming the first African American winner and only the second Black champion in the bee’s 96-year history.
Zaila has described spelling as a side hobby, although she routinely practised for seven hours a day. She is a basketball prodigy who hopes to play someday in the WNBA and holds three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously.
Zaila, who just finished eighth grade, said winning the national spelling bee is just another goal she can now put on her list of accomplishments…
Unlike many serious spellers who begin competing as early as kindergarten, Zaila discovered her talent for spelling when she was 10 after her father, who watched the national spelling bee competition, quizzed her on the winning words of years past. She spelled nearly all of them correctly….
The only previous Black winner of the bee was Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998. Zaila also breaks a streak dating back to 2008 during which at least one champion or co-champion was of south Asian descent.
As winner of the national competition, Zaila is taking home $50,000 in cash and prizes.
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