By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Zaila Avant-garde twirled around in a spin, her smile radiating from the clear braces covering her teeth as confetti fell from the ceilings.
The 14-year-old from Harvey, La., had reason to twirl and spin, and most importantly, she had more than enough reasons to smile.
After spelling the word “Murraya,” a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees, Zaila became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The contest has existed for nearly a century.
“Now I get to get a nice trophy, which is the best part of any win,” Zaila exclaimed in an ESPN interview right after her history-making victory.
Zaila also took home the $50,000 first prize.
“Not only has she competed in spelling bees for two years, she already holds three Guinness World Records for dribbling, bouncing, and juggling basketballs. All before the ninth grade,” New York Times writer Maria Cramer noted.
In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Zaila remarked that she hopes that more African American students would participate and fare well in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
“It is a gate-opener to being interested in education,” Zaila proclaimed.
Celebrities and others praised Zaila for her victory.
“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,” former President Barack Obama tweeted.
The site’s authors detailed Zaila’s journey, noting that she was the regional spelling champion in New Orleans in 2019.
She is the IJA Juggling Silver Medalist and Kaplan Hexco Bee Champion, according to her Instagram bio.
Zaila achieved her first world record in 2019 for the most bounce juggles with three basketballs in one minute at 231.
Zaila classified spelling as a “side pastime” despite having practiced for seven hours each day.
“She is a basketball prodigy who aspires to play in the WNBA one day and owns three Guinness World Records for simultaneously dribbling several balls,” the website noted.