As she stood on the Scripps National Spelling Bee stage, Zaila Avant-garde recognized the significance of what she was doing, peppering pronouncer Jacques Bailly with questions about Greek and Latin origins. Zaila knew that Black youngsters around the country were tuning in to ESPN2 on Thursday night, expecting to be inspired and follow in the footsteps of someone who looked like them.
Image Credit: YahooMoviesCanada
She also remembered MacNolia Cox, the first Black finalist in the spelling bee in 1936, who wasn’t permitted to stay at the same hotel as the other spellers. But she never let the situation overwhelm her, and she gleamed with confidence when she heard what turned out to be her winning word – “Murraya,” a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian plants. It has come to an end. Zaila leaped and swirled with delight after being crowned winner, only flinching in surprise as confetti was thrown into the stage.
Image Credit: TheIndainExpress
“On the matter of Murraya and pretty much any other word I got, I was quite comfortable,” Zaila stated. “I kind of figured I’d never be into spelling anymore,” Zaila said, “but I’m also delighted I’m getting away from it.” “I can go out and leave it right there and walk away, just like my Guinness World Records.” Many of the best Scripps spellers begin competing in preschool.
Image Credit: AlJazeera
Zaila just started a few years ago, when her father, Jawara Spacetime, saw the bee on TV and recognized that his daughter’s propensity for mental math might be applied to spelling. The format of the bee was also revised after the 2019 competition ended in an eight-way tie. Five of the 11 finalists were eliminated in the first onstage round this year, despite Scripps’ word selection being no match for the best spellers that year.
Image Credit: Reuters
Then there was the new wrinkle in this year’s bee: multiple-choice vocabulary questions. Those were correctly spelt by all six remaining spellers. Zaila won the bee so quickly — it was over in just two hours — that she didn’t even require the third novelty, a lightning-round tiebreaker. She’ll take home more than $50,000 in cash and presents. She still has two years of eligibility left, and she’s already one of the favorites for next year.