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Zaila Avant-Garde Makes History With Scripps Spelling Bee Win

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Last night the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned a new winner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZAILA AVANT-GARDE: Murraya - M-U-R-R-A-Y-A.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That is correct.

AVANT-GARDE: (Laughter).

(CHEERING)

FADEL: Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American student to win the competition.

AVANT-GARDE: I can't even fully put into words how I feel right now.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Which is saying something because she knows a lot of words. She says she's been getting ready for two years and studied 13,000 words a day. The winning word, murraya, is a genus of tropical trees.

AVANT-GARDE: I'd like to send a thank you to Bill Murray because the reason I knew that word, murraya, was because of the movie "Lost In Translation," which when I was a little kid, I, like, used to listen to the soundtrack. And so that's how that word stuck in my head because it's spelled like Bill Murray's name.

FADEL: The historic nature of her win isn't lost on Avant-garde.

AVANT-GARDE: It makes me feel really proud. I'm really hoping lots of little brown girls all over the world are, like, really motivated to try out spelling and stuff because it's really a fun thing to do. And it's a great way to kind of connect yourself with education, which is super important.

KING: And in addition to being one of the best spellers in the country, she's also an amazing basketball player. She holds three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple basketballs. And one day, she wants to play in the WNBA. But for now she's just going to celebrate.

AVANT-GARDE: Having fun, eating a lot - that type of thing.

KING: Congratulations, Zaila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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