History-Making Scripps Spelling Bee Champ Zaila Avant-garde Tells Inside Edition How She Knew Winning Word

Zaila Avant-garde, from Harvey, Louisiana, is the first ever African American to win the Scripps Spelling Bee. The 14-year-old can now add her trophy to a modest list of achievements, including three Guinness world records.

Spelling bee champ Zalia Avant-garde was announced the winner of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, marking history as the first Black American to win the competition in its 96-year history. The competition was held in person at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

The 14-year-old prodigy was one of three female finalists who advanced to the fourth round and she wasn't going to back down when it came to the final winning word.

When she heard it would be "Murraya," which is the genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees, she asked if it had any relation to the name "Murray" like the "comedian," referencing American actor Bill Murray. The judges said they didn't see that as a hint.

Still she proceeded to confidently spell the final word and win the $50,000 prize.

The teen jumped with excitement as confetti was shot onto the stage. 

Avant-garde spoke with Inside Edition after her triumphant win. 

"It feels good!" She beamed. "I’m hoping lots of African American and also Hispanic people look at it and kind of get inspiration to think that they can win spelling bees and stuff."

She shared that she always remembered the word "Murray" ever since she saw a film featuring the comedian. 

"I’ve always remembered that word because I associate it with something that’s kind of a part of my young childhood," she told IE. "I love the movie Lost In Translation, which I really remember the music, and I didn’t really remember watching the movie. And so the idea of Bill Murray has always kind of stuck in my head."

Avant-garde, from Harvey, Louisiana, can now add her trophy to a modest list of achievements, including three Guinness world records for the most basketballs dribbled simultaneously (six balls for 30 seconds), the most basketball bounces (307 bounces in 30 seconds), and the most bounce juggles in one minute (255 using four basketballs), according to Guinness World Records.

She even appeared in a Steph Curry commercial in 2018 showcasing her athleticism.

Most Scripps champions start as early as kindergarten, but Avant-garde only began practicing a few years ago, according to the AP. She began practicing with a coach, a 20-year-old Yale student who was a previous Scripps runner-up.

First Lady Jill Biden was in the audience Thursday night and recalled her own time competing in spelling bees. 

"What this does is it gives these kids confidence, and I think that's of utmost importance in life," she said. 

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