If you have never heard of this word you are not alone. It is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals.” At the 2021 Scrippts National Spelling Bee, 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde knew what it was and more importantly knew how to spell it, making her the 2021 champion. With this title, she became the first African American winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. 

 The Newcomer 

Zaila Avant-garde is one of the most interesting teenagers in the world. She reached the top of the Spelling Bee world just two years after competing in her first competition in 2019.  Her coach, Cole Shafer-Ray, the runner-up in the 2015 competition, told ESPN that her nack for memorizing words is something he even has trouble understanding.

“You have to have been doing it for many years.” he said. “It was like a mystery, like, ‘Is this person even real?'”

Brains and Brawn

In addition to her spelling prowess, Avant-garde is also a human calculator. This may sound like an exaggeration, but she can multiply and divide double-digit numbers in her head! Check out this video below.


Mental Math #5thgrade #Mathlete Zaila Avant-garde from Zaila Avant-garde on Vimeo.

What may be even more impressive are her accomplishments on the basketball court. Avant-garde holds three Guinness World records including the most balls juggled in one minute (4), the most dribbles in 30 seconds with four basketballs and the most basketballs dribbled by one person simultaneously. With these dribbling skills, it’s no surprise that she is a force when running the point. Check out her incredible handles below. 

Although she made history and won $50k as the winner of the National Spelling Bee, Avant-garde told the AP that basketball is her true passion. 


“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.”

 At 14 Avant-garde is keeping her career options open, telling reporters that she would love to be a WNBA player or work for NASA. 

Whatever she decides to do, she is well on her way to success!

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