14-year-old says “it feels good” to make history as spelling bee champ

Zaila Avant-garde made history when she won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. The 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, is the first African American winner in the bee’s 96-year history. First lady Jill Biden attended the bee and witnessed the moment Avant-garde claimed the title after spelling the word “murraya.”

Avant-garde told “CBS This Morning” that winning the spelling bee felt like a dream come true for her.

“It felt like really good. It’s like a kind of like a dream come true because I’ve been working toward that goal for like two years. And so to finally have it, it’s like the best possible outcome because it couldn’t have gone any better,” Avant-garde said.

The teen said even though she had millions of eyes on her, she wasn’t nervous during the competition. Avant-garde told CBS News’ Jaime Yuccas that she was proud to make history but noted it was “sad” that it took so long for an African American to win the bee.

“It felt really great to be the first African American champion because it’s nice. Just almost 100 years of no African Americans. It’s not too surprising or anything, but it’s still kind of sad and stuff for there not to be any African American winners. But it feels good,” Avant-garde said.

Her love for spelling and her love of the roots of difficult words pushed her to study seven hours a day.

“It sounds really difficult, but if you like study and know the roots and then suddenly it is really easy,” she said.

Spelling isn’t her only talent. The teenager is a basketball prodigy. She is one of the top eighth-grade basketball prospects in the country. Avant-garde said she hopes to go to Harvard, work for NASA and even play in the WNBA.