A Louisiana teenager has made history by becoming the first African-American winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the competition’s second black winner since its inception.
Zaila avant-garde slept in the air after triumphant spellings of the word “Murraya” correctly and secured her historic victory. The word is defined as “a genus of tropical Asian and Australian trees with pinnate leaves and flowers with imprinted petals.”
The highly competitive tournament came back this year after being postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Zaila, an eighth-grader, beat 208 other young aspirants to the title at the finals, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida on July 8th.
“I was pretty relaxed about Murraya and pretty much every other word I got,”
“I can not even put into words how I feel right now,” she told NPR. “I want to say thank you to Bill Murray because the reason I knew the word ‘murraya’ was because of the movie. Lost in translation, like when I was a little kid, I used to listen to the soundtrack, and then that word sat in my head because it was spelled as Bill Murray’s name. ”
Zaila is the first from her hometown to win the competition and the competition’s second black winner in her 96-year history. The first was Jody-Anne Maxwell from Jamaica in 1998.
The newly crowned champion, whose training regimen includes studying 13,000 words a day, is no stranger to impressive feats. Eighth-graders hope she can one day play in the WNBA, and when she’s not spelling, she’s known as a basketball underdog whose skills include dribbling three balls while riding a unicycle.
She currently holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball skills, including a record for most jumping jugglers in one minute with four basketballs.
When she got to her second appearance in the Scripps competition, Zaila went 18 laps and took words, including “fidibus”, “solidungulate” and “alpargata”, to reach the final stage.
Runner-up Chaitra Thummala came under the title in the 17th round after misspelling “neroli oil”.
Zaila’s winnings include a $ 50,000 cash prize from Scripps and an additional $ 2,500 cash prize from Merriam-Webster, Bien’s dictionary partner.
Adam Symson, President and CEO of EW Scripps Company, handed out the championship trophy and paid tribute to his newest champion for an amazing achievement.
Zaila demonstrated incredible mastery of the English language with balance and perseverance. The expertise of all our competitors, their hard work and their commitment to learning and their different stories capture hearts and minds across the globe, ”said Symson.
While the competition was not open to spectators, a high-profile guest present was First Lady Jill Biden, who met with participants and their families and gave a short speech.
“In sixth grade, I was my school’s spelling master. I had a chance to go to the next level, but on the day of the regional competition, I told my mother that I was ill, ”she told the young participants. “The truth was, I was too nervous to go, so I have incredible admiration for each and every one of you.”
Zaila’s remarkable victory and her combined expertise has won her new fans online.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell was among the benevolent and wrote: “We are all so proud of you !!”