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14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde has become the first African-American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, breaking a 12-year winning streak of Indian-Americans at the prestigious competition.
Spelling out ‘murraya’, a genus of tropical Australian trees, Zaila beat finalist Chaitra Thummula to win a cash prize of $50,000 and the coveted title.
She becomes the competition’s second Black winner ever after a student from Jamaica, Jody-Anne Maxwell, won in 1998.
Notably, 9 of the 11 finalists in this year’s spelling bee in Orlando, Florida were of Indian origin: 13-year-old Avani Joshi, 11-year-old Vivinsha Veduru, 12-year-old Dhroov Bharatia, 12-year-old Vihaan Sibal, 13-year-old Bhavana Madini, 14-year-old Sreethan Gajula, 13-year-old Akshainie Kamma, 12-year-old Chaitra Thummala, and 14-year-old Ashrita Gandhari. (For some, Ashrita might be a familiar face after featuring in Netflix documentary Spelling the Dream last year.)
Finalist Chaitra Thummala’s winning hopes were dashed when she misspelled ‘neroli oil’.
14-year-old Zaila was a surprise contender in this year’s competition, having taken up competitive spelling only two years ago. In 2019, she had placed #370 in the competition.
However, this win is but one of Zaila’s many talents. In fact, the 14-year-old basketball prodigy already holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball skills and hopes to join the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBA) some day.
Since 2008, there has been at least one Indian-American winner of the spelling bee. Understandably, social media is abuzz with Zaila’s win.
There will be no bigger upset this year in sports. Miracle On Ice-level. https://t.co/wFrHvEAvQt
— 18 Million Over The Tweet Cap (@AndyGlockner) July 9, 2021
here to defy indian american stereotypes by admitting to twitter that i lost the 5th grade spelling bee in the first round to a three letter word
— മായ (@soupspooned) February 23, 2021
Even comedian Hari Kondabolu, who joked that the spelling bee was the “Indian SuperBowl” back in 2015, took to Twitter to share his thoughts on this “national day of mourning”.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) July 9, 2021
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