Even in the age of technology, and people captivated with spell check and autofill constantly at their fingertips, America is still in love with the centuries-old tradition, the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Well, at least I am.
This year’s Bee was different from any that came before because of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to the cancellation of last year’s Bee. It was moved from its usual location, just outside Washington D.C., to an ESPN campus in Florida, and only the top 11 spellers competed in person. Previous rounds were held virtually.
In Elementary school, I dreamed of competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I was a very good speller, not bragging, but I was “that girl” who always received a perfect score on the weekly Friday spelling test.
Every Monday morning, we would go over spelling words and the spelling pattern. We would make up motions to the words to help us remember them. As the week continued, we would write sentences and learn the meaning of each word in preparation for Friday’s spelling test.
We would play around the world. You know what around the world is, right? Am I aging myself? Usually, the winner from the previous week would begin the spelling game. If the student spells the word correctly, the student moves on to the next classmate. If the student is wrong, they sit down, and the student who spells the word correctly continues around the class, hence around the world, until every student has a chance to spell.
It was a fun, competitive way to help us (students) learn our weekly words.
Well, this is what happened, Thursday, July 8, 2021.
At the end of the 17th round, Zaila Avant-garde approached the microphone after Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas, incorrectly spells “neroli oil.” Zaila says hello and is told, “if you spell the next word correctly, we will declare you the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion.”
The word is “murraya,” a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals. “Murraya.” Zaila, repeats the word “murraya” and then asks, “does this word contain the English name, Murry,” which can be the name of a comedian like an English name in general? Zaila slips in a little Bill Murray joke that had the judges smiling. You will have to watch the replays.
Again, Zaila repeats the word “murraya” she says, “M” immediately followed by “WAIT!” And she asks the words origin. Zaila is told the word is formed in Latin and made from a Swedish word. She pauses, repeats the word, then begins spelling m-u-r-r-a-y-a. Excitedly, a voice off stage declares, “that is correct!” Zaila places her hands on her head, like Macaulay Culkin in the 1990 comedy, Home Alone and then spins around in a complete 360 and jumps for joy!
The only word that gave her real trouble was “nepeta,” a genus of Old-World mints. She jumped higher on “nepeta” than she did for murraya.
Zaila, a talented 14-year-old basketball player who hopes to play someday in the WNBA. That is right, another basketball player, doing more than dribbling and holds three Guinness World Records in dribbling. Zaila Avant-garde from Harvey, Louisiana, became the first African American winner in the Bee’s 96-year history, and the competition’s second Black champion.
As the Champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Zaila vant-garde will be awarded a $50,000 cash prize, a commemorative medal, the Scripps Cup, the official championship trophy of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and from Merriam-Webster, a $2,500 cash prize and reference library, and from the Encyclopedia Britannica, $400 of reference works, including a 1768 Encyclopedia Britannica © Replica Set and a three-year membership to Britannica Online © Premium enough to make you want to win the weekly spelling test.
It is a great sacrifice of technology and many hundreds of hours of free time to a singular kind of intensive study. In the most extreme cases, they have tried to memorize every word in a nearly 3,000-page dictionary.
These contestants were delightfully charming and did not disappoint.
From My Little Corner (MLC)