Zaila Avant-garde, 14, became the first African American to win the 90-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday by correctly spelling â€˜Murraya,â€™ a genus of plants, staying cool after a near miss with a botanical word in a previous round.
Televised live on ESPN, complete with play-by-play commentary and interviews with the participants, the competition finals returned after being cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was once again held before a live audience at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando.
Avant-garde, from New Orleans, is the first Black contestant to win since Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998. The winner is also an accomplished basketball player, with several Guinness World Records to her name for dribbling multiple basketballs at a time.
Avant-garde claimed the $50,000 top prize after appearing relaxed and bantering with the judges and moderators, despite her struggle with â€˜Nepeta,â€™ a word for another plant genus.
Pausing at the unstressed sound in the middle of word, she collected herself, started again, and nailed the second â€˜eâ€™, jumping for joy on stage when told she was correct.