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JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP, Getty Images
On July 8th, 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde was crowned champion of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee after nailing the spelling of "murraya," a genus of flowering plants in the citrus family, Rutaceae. She celebrated by doing an appropriately adorable twirl on stage, and we just adore her.
Avant-garde, a Harvey, Louisiana, native, is the first African American student to take home the $50,000 cash prize in the competition's nearly 100-year history. The spelling bee, which was launched in 1925, was canceled for the first time since WWII last year due to the pandemic. The 2021 Scripps bee is the competition's official comeback and aired live on ESPN2.
— ESPN (@espn) July 9, 2021
Not only is Avant-garde an expert speller, but she also holds three Guinness world records for simultaneously dribbling basketballs, and currently has her sights set on a WNBA career. She told ESPN that spelling is just a "side hobby."
"I was pretty relaxed on the subject of murraya and pretty much any other word I got," Avant-garde said. "I kind of thought I would never be into spelling again, but I'm also happy that I'm going to make a clean break from it. I can go out, like my Guinness world records, just leave it right there and walk off."
— Zaila Avant-garde (@Basketballasart) April 29, 2021
Unlike many other Scripps competitors, Avant-garde only started training a few years ago, whereas many begin around kindergarten. Her coach told ESPN that Avant-garde's spelling ability is only the tip of the iceberg. "She basically knew the definition of every word that we did, like pretty much verbatim," he said. "She knew, not just the word but the story behind the word, why every letter had to be that letter and couldn't be anything else."
Avant-garde is the whizkid of the year, and we're all collectively obsessed with her.
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) July 9, 2021
the new Coolest Person In The World is 13-year old Zaila Avant-Garde, who is currently one of the final two spellers in the Spelling Bee and also holds the Guinness World Record for most basketballs simultaneously dribbled (6) pic.twitter.com/IVDRXGlK7J
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) July 9, 2021
There’s a Black girl from New Orleans named ZAILA AVANT GARDE currently competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee today and no one talk to me about anything else. https://t.co/Nek3sQWwMg
— Franklin Leonard (@franklinleonard) July 9, 2021
— Kevin Negandhi (@KevinNegandhi) July 9, 2021
Three Guinness World Records and now the national spelling bee champ! Congrats, Zaila—your hard work is paying off. We’re all proud of you. https://t.co/UaYoRMGirZ
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 9, 2021
New role model just dropped. Congrats, Zaila!