Zalia Avant-garde Becomes First Black American To Win National Spelling Bee | She’s A Heck Of A Baller Too

Having other hobbies is something that many of the intelligent, young competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, take great pride in. Being well-rounded people.

From sports to playing musical instruments to science competitions, they feed their brains with words and their spirits with various interests. Some even take Indian dance.



The motivation behind Scripps showing the other side of the competitors and revealing their passions and hobbies outside of spelling is clear. It sends a message to the viewers that the spellers are normal everyday kids. Not some robotic twelve to fourteen-year-olds with a monomaniacal devotion to memorizing the dictionary.

The winner of the Scripps National Spelling was Zalia Avant-garde a 14-year-old basketball prodigy from Harvey, Louisiana.



She’s the first African-American to ever win the top spelling event, and she also had the distinct honor of doing so with First Lady Jill Biden in attendance.

Biden made the trek to Lake Buena Vista, Florida to encourage and provide support for each of the talented competitors.


Avant-garde is known more for her athletic prowess than her accomplishments in spelling. She already established her “brand” as a prodigy, who has appeared in a commercial with NBA superstar Stephen Curry, while also owning three Guinness world records for dribbling three basketballs simultaneously.

A middle-schooler with over 12,000 Instagram followers, she has videos showcasing her elite skills. Her ultimate goal is to attend Harvard and play in the WNBA, and even coach in the NBA, if she doesn’t go work for NASA.

Sky is the limit for this girl.

For Avant-garde, competitive spelling came later than most. She didn’t start seriously studying words until the age of 12.

“Basketball… I’m not just playing it. I’m really trying to go somewhere with it. Basketball is what I do Zaila said. “Spelling is really a side thing I do. It’s like a little hors d’ouevre. But basketball’ like the main dish.” Zalia told US News.



Don’t let that statement fool you as Zaila brings the same intensity to spelling as she does to the hardwood. She won last year’s Kaplan-Hexco Online Spelling Bee. That bee was one of many bees that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, after Scripps canceled last year’s event.

Wanting to win the Scripps Bee she spent her $10,000 first place prize to pay for study materials and $130-an-hour private tutoring sessions with a former competitor who placed as the runner-up in 2015.

So she had a dynamite coach, which undoubtedly helped her gain an advantage over other new competitors.

In winning the Scripps Bee, Avant-garde received $50,000 in cash and prizes.
Zalia accomplishing this first-time feat will hopefully chart a new course or career path if her hoop dreams don’t actually come true. The only previous Black winner was also the only international winner, Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.

In ending, Zalia hopes to inspire other African-Americans who might not understand the appeal of spelling or can’t afford to pursue it.

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