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Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, has won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee — becoming the first African-American contestant to clinch the top prize in 93 editions of the competition.

 

Avant-garde saw off competition from 11 finalists to snag the $50,000 cash prize on Thursday after spelling the word “Murraya” correctly.

 

“Murraya” is a kind of tropical Asiatic and Australian tree that has pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals.

 

Meanwhile, Chaitra Thummala, the 12-year-old runner-up, misspelled “Neroli Oil”, a compound word, to win $25,000.

 

Present at Walt Disney World Resort with the competitors’ parents was Jill Biden, America’s first lady, who said the contestants showed “so much courage” in participating in the competition.

 

“These kids have so much courage, and I really admire them,” she said.

 

Avant-garde is the first black contestant to win since Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998 — also the only international winner.

 

Apart from the Spelling Bee feat, Avant-garde is also a sporting prodigy who holds three Guinness World Records for dribbling multiple basketballs at a time.

 

Zaila is a spelling bee competitor, avid chapter book reader, basketball player, and now a Guinness World Records title holder.

 

It was gathered that she began dribbling when she was just 5 and hopes to one day become a professional basketball player and join the WNBA.

 

The National Spelling Bee competition was inaugurated in 1925 as a consolidation of numerous local spelling bees. The competition holds annually.

 

In 2020, the organisers had been forced to cancel the competition for the first time since 1945 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The Spelling Bee crown was shared in 2019 by eight winners after the organisers ran out of words that might challenge the contestants.

 

However, for this year’s event, rule changes had been put in place to avoid multiple co-winners.

 

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