Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde took the top prize at the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday by correctly spelling the word “murraya.” For those who aren’t botanists — or brilliant 8th graders — murraya is “a genus of flowering plants in the citrus family, Rutaceae,” according to Wikipedia.
With her win, New Orleans resident Avant-garde becomes the first African American champion in the nearly 100-year history of the event. She will receive a $50,000 cash prize; a commemorative medal; the “Scripps Cup,” which is the official championship trophy of the Scripps National Spelling Bee; a $2,500 cash prize and reference library from Merriam-Webster; and $400 in reference materials from Encyclopædia Britannica.
— Scripps National Spelling Bee (@ScrippsBee) July 9, 2021
The 2021 edition marks a comeback for the Spelling Bee, which was broadcast on ESPN2 Thursday evening. It was canceled last year for the first time since WWII because of the pandemic. The event was inaugurated in 1925.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee had 209 spellers from across the U.S. and around the globe this year. Beginning June 12, spellers competed virtually in the first three rounds of competition: the Preliminaries, Quarterfinals and Semifinals. The top 10-12 spellers gathered for the in-person Finals at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.
Historically, the competition ends when a speller spells correctly in a one-person, one-word round and is declared the champion. However, if the competition reaches its concluding minutes and the Bee has not named a champion and is not about to enter a one-person, one-word round, a spell-off is activated to declare a winner.