KISSIMMEE, Fla. — History made was made at the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee in its nearly 100-year history. Zaila Avant-garde, of Harvey, Louisiana, became the first African American winner of the spelling competition.
The winning word: murraya, which is a genus of plants from Asia and Australia in the citrus family. The spelling of the word prompted Zaila to think about the last name of one famous actor.
“Bill Murray’s face,” she said, recalling what she first thought of when she heard the word. “I just got murraya, and I just thought of his face and it was so funny to me. ”
The student spellers flew into Florida from all across the country and even The Bahamas for a chance to be crowned this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion. In the end, though, there could only be one winner.
The two-hour final included new competition rules to ensure there would be no ties and only one champion, and that champion has plans of her own for the future.
“Probably work towards playing [basketball] at Harvard, and then working, going to NASA or something like that,” Zaila said, before thinking about what she wanted to do immediately. “I also want to eat and have fun.”
And the best part for her?
“The part where I got the trophy,” she said with a smile.
If there had been a tie, the competition would have had a spell-off this year. It was one of the new rules instituted for the Bee in 2021.
In addition to the Scripps Cup, the winner will get a $50,000 cash prize from Scripps, along with cash prizes from the Merriam-Webster dictionary company and Encyclopedia Britannica. The spellers who placed second and third will get $30,000 and $15,000 respectively.