Sunday, July 3, 2022
Scripps National Spelling Bee Champ Zaila Avant-garde is a Promising Student Athlete
By Amanda Scurlock, Sports Writer
Published July 15, 2021

To prepare for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Zaila Avant-garde hired a tutor and learned 13,000 words a day (Twitter photo)

After correctly spelling the word “Murraya,” Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old Harvey, Louisiana native won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Avant-garde is the first African American student to win the National Spelling Bee.

She since gained national attention and even earned college scholarship offers. Avant-garde has received a full ride scholarship for Southern University (SU), according to a Tweet by SU President-Chancellor Ray L. Belton.

“I am pleased to announce that [Southern University] is offering #ZailaAvantgarde a full scholarship and “#Zaila Day” at SU, part of the nation’s only #HBCU system,” Belton stated. “Our student leaders, faculty and alumni look forward to meeting with you.”


She also earned a full ride to the Louisiana State University’s Honors College, according to an announcement LSU president William F. Tate IV tweeted.

“Your academic performance reflected scholarship first!” Tate IV stated. “You modeled intellectual excellence.”

Avant-garde has also received messages of support from the likes of former president Barack Obama, Lakers star LeBron James, and current president Joe Biden. Actress Keke Palmer, who played Akeelah in “Akeelah and the Bee’’—a movie centered around the National Spelling Bee—sent her kudos to Avant-garde.

“THE REAL LIFE AKEELAH YOU GUYS!! The real life one. I’m so happy in my heart,” Palmer stated on Instagram. “A couple of weeks ago I sent in a video encouraging all the contestants and for this to happen just feels so spiritual! I am so happy. Major love to Doug Atchinson that allowed me to act a dream and thank God for letting me live to see it come to fruition.”

Actor and 2021 ESPYS host Anthony Mackie invited her to the award show.

While she became nationally known for her spelling dexterity, she is also a proficient basketball player. Her highlights shows her passing skills and her ability to attack the paint. Avant-garde is also a skilled dribbler and juggler, having made three Guinness World Records. She holds the record for most balls juggled in one minute with four basketballs, most dribbles in 30 seconds with four basketballs, and most basketballs dribbled by one person with six.


Avant-garde shows off her dribbling and unicycling skills on her Instagram account. She had around 20,000 followers, but is now at 81.7 thousand.

Her father changed her name from Heard to Avant-garde to honor jazz musician John Coltrane.  To prepare for the National Spelling Bee, Avant-garde studied 13,000 words a day.

One of Avant-garde’s goals is to make the 2022 USA Basketball under-16 national team. She also aspires to attend Harvard, play in the WNBA, work for NASA, and coach in the NBA.

Categories: Basketball | Education | Sports
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