Watch: Scripps National Spelling Bee Names Zaila Avant-garde as the 2021 Champion [Video]

Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old 8th-grader from Harvey, Louisiana, correctly spelled “murraya” — a genus of flowering plants — and won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

via People:

Zaila, who is also a basketball prodigy, is the first Black student to be crowned the American champion, according to the Associated Press.

For the 2021 event, spellers competed virtually in the quarterfinals and semifinals over several weeks. Eleven finalists traveled down to Florida for the finals that normally take place in Washington, D.C., as do the preliminary rounds during the competition’s usual in-person “Bee Week.”

The bee was especially poignant this year (First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was even in attendance!), as last year’s competition was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After the 2020 bee (which normally takes place in late May/early June) was postponed last March, officials said the following month that they couldn’t reschedule because “there is no clear path to safely set a new date in 2020.”

“Our thoughts immediately go to our spellers and their families,” said Paige Kimble, executive director of the bee, in a statement at the time. “The students have dedicated time and effort to their passion for learning. They should be proud of all they have accomplished by winning spelling bees at the classroom, school and regional level.”

Added Kimble, “Nevertheless, our first priority has to be the health and well-being of our spellers and their families and the hundreds of staff and spectators that come together for Bee Week.”

Scripps announced the return of the bee in February, in a press release that stated, “The decision to limit the in-person portion of the competition to no more than 12 spellers was made in consideration of the health and safety of participants, their families and everyone involved in the event’s production as the country continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It went on, “The in-person portion of the competition … will follow protocols based on guidance from health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for social distancing and masking.”

In 2019, the bee saw an unprecedented outcome when eight contestants tied to win. After 17 rounds, longtime announcer (and 1980 champion!) Jacques Bailly said the competition would end after 20 rounds, and anyone who spelled three more words correctly would be crowned co-champions.

The 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee aired live from Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPNU.

Watch the magic moment below.

 

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