National Spelling Bee winner is also a basketball prodigy – PBS NewsHour

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Zaila Avant-garde made history Thursday as the first African American student to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The word she spelled correctly to win was “Murraya,” which is a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees. Her victory during the final round also means she is the first Black champion since Jody-Anne Maxwell in 1998. Lisa Desjardins reports on her life and accomplishments.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight, we couldn’t finish this week without recognizing history made at the National Spelling Bee last night and the impressive young teen who won it.

    Lisa Desjardins is back with her story.

  • Man:

    The word is murraya.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A genus of trees. That was the word that sealed her victory last night.

  • Zaila Avant-garde:

    M-U-R-R-A-Y-A, murraya.

  • Woman:

    That is correct.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde from Harvey, Louisiana, became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

  • Zaila Avant-garde:

    I have been, like, working on it for like two years. And then to finally have it, like, the best possible outcome, it was really good.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The only previous Black champion was an international student from Jamaica, Jody-Anne Maxwell, in 1998.

  • Zaila Avant-garde:

    I’m hoping that, in a few years, a few years, I will see a whole lot more African American females, and males, too, doing well in the Scripps Spelling Bee, because it’s, like, a really good thing, kind of a good gate-opener to being interested in education.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For Avant-garde, spelling came relatively late in her life, only two years ago, with daily study sessions, about seven hours long, reviewing nearly 13,000 words a day.

  • Zaila Avant-garde:

    I just study it. I just — getting ready for Scripps.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This summer, she emerged from more than 200 contestants, and breezed to victory past 10 other finalists last night.

    It was a stark contrast to the previous competition in 2019, when eight students took home a prize.

  • Man:

    The 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But, for Avant-garde, winning the bee and the $50,000 that came with it is only one of her passions. She is also an avid basketball player and the owner of three Guinness world records for her amazing dribbling skills.

    With her basketball talents, and now the spelling bee under her belt, she says she now has her eyes set on even more ambitious goals, from playing in the WNBA to maybe one day coaching in the NBA.

    For the “PBS NewsHour, ” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All we can say is, wow. This young woman is headed, what, to the Olympics and to the White House.

    We will see.

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