Zaila Avant-Garde is a really cool kid. At 13 years old, she won the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee last night, becoming the first Black winner of that competition. She’s also a total baller. Literally.
Yes, she can spell better than anyone on staff here, but she’s also a hooper with aspirations of making it to the WNBA. She starred in a commercial alongside Steph Curry, and she owns three basketball-related Guinness world records for dribbling.
“Basketball, I’m not just playing it. I’m really trying to go somewhere with it. Basketball is what I do,” Avant-Garde said. “Spelling is really a side thing I do. It’s like a little hors d’oeuvre. But basketball’s like, the main dish.
“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words (per day), and that usually takes about seven hours or so,” she said. “We don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”
Sure, seven hours a day is just a walk in the park and a little hors d’oeuvre. No big deal. Winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee? Casual. How cool is he? Her father changed her last name to Avant-Garde to honor jazz great John Coltrane. Doesn’t get much cooler.
Everything about this kid is cool — I wish Stuart Scott was still with us, to drop a “cool as the other side of the pillow” in response to her victory last night.
Oh, and in winning the ultimate prize for her little side gig last night, Avant-Garde took home $50,000. NBD.
It’s crucial that kids are given the opportunity to pursue their passions and dreams, no matter their upbringing or their family’s financial status. Talent and gifts are everywhere, and we must continue to provide resources and opportunities to children and families of all economic backgrounds so those gifts can be shared with the world.
“It’s really important to me that a student anywhere in the country or a parent or a sponsor watches the Bee… and says, ‘I see myself there, I want to be there and there is a clear pathway to try to get there,’” said J. Michael Durnil, the Bee’s new executive director.
He got the perfect winner to exemplify that idea. Keep inspiring, Zaila. You can do anything.