Last night, history was made by the strength of this New Orleans teen. 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde was crowned the winner of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making her the first African-American student to achieve this milestone within the competition’s 96-year history.
Avant-garde’s winning word was “murraya,” which is defined as “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary.
“Does this word contain the English name Murray, which could be the name of a comedian?,” Avant-garde asked adorably, yet serious, as the judges chimed in with light laughter. After being given the name of origin, she was fully equipped to spell the word with ease.
Before nabbing the championship title, Avant-garde went head-to-head against 12-year-old Chaitra Thummala in the final round and taking on difficult words such as fidibus, haltere, nepeta, and fewtrils. According to CBS News, the 12-year-old competitor “faltered on neroli oil,” which left space and opportunity for Avant-garde to claim her prize.
Spelling Latin and Swedish-originated words isn’t the only talent the Louisiana native has. According to espnW, Avant-garde also holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for “Most Bounced Juggles” in a one-minute span with four basketballs and “Most Dribbles” for a 30-second time interval with four basketballs. However, her crown and glory is the title of “Most Basketballs Dribbled In One Minute Simultaneously” with a total of six basketballs.
According to the official Guinness Book of World Records website, Avant-garde received her first Guinness World Records book from her parents for her eighth birthday. “For my 13th birthday, I decided I wanted to celebrate becoming a teenager to do a Guinness World Record,” Avant-garde said. “I don’t know, it was kind of rapid success. I could’ve just stayed doing one thing for forever so you just keep going, and going, and going.”
Avant-garde began to practice her dribbling at the age of five and cites fellow Guinness World Records titleholders Malala Yousafzai, Serena Williams, and Coco Gauff as her inspiration. By November 14, 2019, she accomplished a personal goal and set a new record with 231 bounce juggles. Coincidentally, it was annual Guinness World Records Day.