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Zaila Avant-garde is the first African-American to win a spelling bee in the United States
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Zaila Avant-garde is the first African-American to win a spelling bee in the United States

A young basketball prodigy Zaila Avant-garde has won the US Scripps National Spelling Bee for the first time, becoming the first African American to do so.

With the term “murraya,” a type of tropical tree, Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, strolled to victory.

She had to spell out “querimonious” and “solidungulate” to get there.

Despite spending up to seven hours a day practising, Zaila considers spelling to be a side pastime; her main goal is to become a professional basketball player.

She’s already set three world records for dribbling several balls at once, and she’s starred in a commercial alongside NBA superstar Stephen Curry.

She defeated Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas, in the final round.

On Thursday, Zaila defeated a field of 11 competitors to earn the title and a $50,000 (£36,000) first-place award in the event in Orlando, Florida.

“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words [per day], and that usually takes about seven hours or so,” the home-schooled teen told New Orleans paper the Times-Picayune.

“We don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”

According to the Associated Press news agency, it was the first time since 2008 when at least one Scripps National Spelling Bee champion or co-champion was not of South Asian ancestry.

Zaila had paused earlier in the evening over the term nepeta, a herbal mint, but had managed to correctly spell it. Zaila is the tournament’s second black winner, after Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica, who won at the age of 12 in 1998.

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