14-Year-Old Zaila Avant-Garde Wins Scripps National Spelling Bee

As a kid, I competed in spelling bees and made it to regionals a couple times, before words like “puree” and “repertoire” knocked me out of the running.

Watching the other contestants gave me just a taste of the discipline, skill, and intensity that it takes to compete, and a respect for the young people who dedicate their time to being the best.

It’s no surprise to me that the winner of this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee is a driven, ambitious young woman who excels beyond the competition stage in academics and even holds three Guinness World Records! Meet Zaila Avant-garde, the winner of the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee!

Avante-garde, 14, is from Louisiana and is the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She is also the second black winner, after Jamaican winner Jody-Anne Maxwell in 1998.

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Zaila practiced for seven hours a day leading up to the bee, though her first love is actually basketball. She dreams of playing in the WNBA one day, and holds three Guinness World Records for basketball dribbling!

“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,” enthused coach Cole Shafer-Ray to The Guardian.

Shafer-Ray, who also coached runner-up Chaitra Thummala, is a student at Yale and took second place in the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee. He described Zaila as naturally talented, a trait that surprised the Avant-garde family four years ago when her father spontaneously began quizzing her on championship words like “xanthochroism” and “psophometer.”

Almost instinctively, she started correctly spelling those words at an astonishing rate. Talking to The Guardian, she 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.”

Photo: YouTube/Scripps National Spelling Bee

Now that she’s achieved the highest level of success in the world of spelling bees, I’m sure that whatever Zaila chooses to tackle next, she’ll do very well in it!

Watch the moment that Zaila takes home the trophy after spelling “Murraya” correctly below, and keep up with everything related to the Scripps Spelling Bee at their Instagram!

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