LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP
) — Whether dribbling a basketball
or identifying obscure Latin or Greek roots, Zaila Avant-garde is unfazed.
On Thursday night, the 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana
, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee
, becoming the bee's first African American
winner and only the second Black
champion in its 96-year history
Zaila has described spelling as a side hobby, despite regularly practicing for seven hours a day, and she is a basketball prodigy who hopes to play in the WNBA
someday and holds three Guinness
world records for dribbling multiple balls
at the same time.
After spelling the winning word, "murraya," a genus of tropical Asian and Australian
trees, Zaila twirled and leaped with delight.
Only one word stumped her, “nepeta,” a genus of Old World mints, and she jumped even higher when she got it right than when she accepted the trophy.
Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas
, finished second. Both Zaila and Chaitra are coached by Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student who finished second in the Scripps competition in 2015.
Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica
was the only previous Black winner of the bee in 1998, and Zaila also ends a streak that began in 2008, when at least one champion or co-champion was of South Asian descent.