For the first time in the history of the Scripps Spelling Bee, a Black girl was crowned champion. Fourteen-year old Zaila Avant-garde made history on Thursday evening and took home the top prize of $50,000, ESPN reports.

Previously, the only other Black champion was Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica, who was also the only international winner in 1998. 

Avant-garde solidified her place as the champion by spelling the word “Murraya,” which is defined as “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals” by Merriam-Webster.

“Does this word contain like the English name Murray, which would be the name of a comedian?” Zaila asked, referring to the actor Bill Murray and drawing laughs from the judges and the pronouncer.

“I was pretty relaxed on the subject of Murraya and pretty much any other word I got," Zaila told ESPN.

A confetti celebration ensued after she correctly spelled the word of Latin origin.

Mastery of spelling is just one of Avant-garde’s hobbies. She’s also a basketball prodigy with dreams of playing in the WNBA, coach in the NBA, and to join NASA. Currently, she holds several Guinness world records for dribbling and has appeared in a commercial with NBA superstar Stephen Curry.

"I kind of thought I would never be into spelling again, but I'm also happy that I'm going to make a clean break from it," Zaila said. "I can go out, like my Guinness world records, just leave it right there and walk off."

Unlike many of her fellow students who have years of training for the event, Avant-garde is relatively new to spelling championships. Her father noticed her knack for spelling when she was 10 years old. 

While watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee, her father asked her to spell the word “knaidel." Without hesitation, she replied, “K-N-A-I-D-E-L.” It was then that he knew she had a gift and hired a spelling coach for her.

“He was really surprised,” Avant-garde told “He expected to stump me with this really crazy word but I got it right. Then, he started to think that maybe a spelling bee might be a really interesting thing to put me in.”

Avant-garde participated in the 2019 Scripps bee but didn’t make it to the finals. After Scripps was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Avant-garde won the first national Kaplan Online Spelling Bee, taking home the $10,000 grand prize, beating a pool of 88 students. That event turned out to be the preparation for her triumph on Thursday night.

Avant-garde’s win is historically significant. Not only is she the first winner from the African Diaspora since Maxwell, but she is the first Black American finalist since MacNolia Cox, who made it to the championship round back in 1936. At the time, Cox wasn’t allowed to stay in the same hotel as the rest of the spellers.

While on stage, Avant-garde said she felt "really good" after her victory.

"Now I get a nice trophy, which is the best part of any win."