A teenage basketball prodigy has become the first African American to win the US Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, cruised to victory with the word “murraya”, a type of tropical tree. To get to that point she had to spell out “querimonious” and “solidungulate”.
Despite practising for up to seven hours a day, she describes spelling as a side hobby – Zaila’s main focus is on becoming a basketball pro.
She already holds three world records for dribbling multiple balls at once, and has appeared in an advertisement with the NBA megastar Stephen Curry.
Zaila saw off a field of 11 finalists on Thursday to win the title and bagged a first-place prize of $50,000 (£36,000) at the event in Orlando, Florida. In the final round, she beat 12-year-old Chaitra Thummala of Frisco, Texas.
It was the first time since 2008 that at least one champion or co-champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was not of South Asian descent, the Associated Press news agency reports. Zaila had earlier in the evening hesitated over the word nepeta, a herbal mint, but managed to spell it correctly.
“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words [per day], and that usually takes about seven hours or so,” the home-schooled teen told New Orleans paper the Times-Picayune.
“We don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”
Zaila is the second black girl to win the tournament – Jody-Anne Maxwell, of Jamaica, was crowned champion in 1998 at the age of 12.
In 2019, eight children came joint-first for the first time in the spelling bee’s history. The tournament was cancelled last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.