Who is Zaila Avant-garde? Everything to know about the Basketball prodigy and Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion

Basketball star Zaila Avant-garde wins Scripps National Spelling Bee competition (Image via Instagram/Zaila Avant-garde)
Basketball star Zaila Avant-garde wins Scripps National Spelling Bee competition (Image via Instagram/Zaila Avant-garde)
Barsha Roy

Zaila Avant-garde has created history by being the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition since 1998’s Jodi-Ann Maxwell from Jamaica. She is also the first winner of the championship from Louisiana.

The 14-year-old is also a basketball prodigy and has three Guinness World Records to her credit. She also holds the record for dribbling with six basketballs at a time, the maximum number of basketballs used for simultaneous dribbling.

On Thursday, July 8th, 2021, Zaila Avant-garde took home the prestigious Spelling Bee trophy and a whopping $50,000 prize money. The Scripps National Spelling Bee competition took place at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando after being called off last year due to the pandemic.

Avant-garde’s winning shot at the competition was the correct spelling of “Murraya,” a botanical term for a kind of citrus flowering plant often found in Australia, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. She had to face 11 contestants in the finale to bag the winning title.

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Meet Zaila Avant-garde, a budding basketball star and Guinness World Record holder, who has been in a commercial with Stephen Curry

Zaila Avant-garde is based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her last name was given by her father as a tribute to jazz music artist John Coltrane.

Before coming under the spotlight for her historic win in the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition, the young talent earned immense recognition for her basketball skills.

The three-time Guinness World Record holder started showing interest in spelling competitions just two years ago. In an interview with, Zaila Avant-garde shared that while spelling is one of her hobbies, basketball is her ultimate goal:

“Basketball, I'm not just playing it. I'm really trying to go somewhere with it. Basketball is what I do. Spelling is really a side thing I do. It's like a little hors d'ouevre. But basketball's like the main dish.”

She further opened up about training to appear in the Spelling Bee championship:

“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words (per day), and that usually takes about seven hours or so. We don't let it go way too overboard, of course. I've got school and basketball to do.”

The budding basketball star has already appeared in a commercial with NBA legend Stephen Curry. The teenager aspires to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association and coach the NBA in the future. She also wishes to attend Harvard for higher studies.

Zaila Avant-garde is also the winner of the 2020 Kaplan-Hexco Online Spelling Bee competition. She has reportedly used her $10,000 prize money from the online championship for academic support. Avant-garde is tutored by Cole Shafer-Ray, runner-up of 2015’s Scripps Spelling Bee.

In the interview, Avant-garde also shared that she wants to become an inspiration for other African-American students:

“Maybe they don't have the money to pay $600 for a spelling program; they don't have access to that. With tutors and stuff, they charge, like, murder rates.”

With more than 16,000 followers on her Instagram account, Zaila Avant-garde has earned a remarkable online following. She has also earned applause from several athletes and celebrities, including rapper Michael Franti.

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Edited by Shaheen Banu


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