Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Harvey, Louisiana, smiled and twirled her way to the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship Thursday, becoming the first African-American winner in the spelling competition’s 96-year history, and the second Black champion ever following Jamaican-based Jody Anne-Maxwell’s win in 1998.
According to Zaila, even though she practiced for the competition seven hours a day, spelling is just her side hobby. The new spelling bee champ is also a basketball prodigy, who holds three basketball-related Guinness World Records, hopes to attend Harvard, play in the WNBA and maybe even become an NBA coach one day. That is if she doesn’t end up becoming a NASA scientist.
Zaila’s winning word was “murraya,” which is a type of tree, and, before her big win, she made a Bill Murray joke, which stole the hearts of many viewers across the country, who took to Twitter calling her “a boss.”
“Murraya. Does this word contain, like, the English name ‘Murray,’ which could be the name of a comedian,” asked Zaila. The moderator laughed before saying, “Bill Murray made the spelling bee.”
On how she felt about winning the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Zaila stated, “Really good. I mean, I was a bit surprised. I’ve been warned about the confetti.”