Louisiana needs a little positive news so I wanted to share this story about a little superstar in Louisiana. The 14-year-old, Zaila Avant-garde lives in Harvey and she just won the Kaplan Online Spelling Bee and was awarded $10,000 and a huge trophy because she spelled ‘Qashqai’ correctly in the final stretch of the competition.  If you’re asking yourself, “What in the world does Qashqai mean?”, well you are not alone. I was wondering that myself. But Zaila said she was well aware of the word. As a matter of fact, she said it was one of her favorite words to spell.  Qashqai is migratory Turkic-speaking people from the Zagros Mountains in the Middle East.

According to Nola.com, the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee was canceled because of the global pandemic so Kaplan teamed up with Hexco Academic to co-host the national online spelling bee. The virtual competition was held at the end of July.

Our Louisiana girl, Zaila, beat out 88 other young students from across the country after 6 days, 18 hours, and 504 words delivered through 31 rounds of spelling.  Read that about 5 times and let it sink in. That is pretty amazing. Zaila spelled words like ‘yponomeutid’ and ‘haraes’.

Being held virtually is a whole new ballgame when it comes to spelling bees. It’s not the environment they are used to. Naturally, they need to check your surroundings to make sure you don’t have help. This meant that every time it was Zaila’s turn, she had to prove she was alone by scanning her surroundings using the camera on her laptop.

Preparing for a spelling bee is not a walk in the park. It is a lot of work and dedication. According to Nola.com, Zaila began studying five to six hours a day in March 2019 for the Scripps spelling bee. She also followed a guide called SpellPundit and worked with a tutor in Oklahoma.

If beating 88 other students across the country in a spelling bee isn’t enough to impress you, how about adding a Guinness World Record to that. Zaila is an avid basketball player and the 5’8” girl has a pretty impressive resume when it comes to b-ball. She holds the Guinness World Record for 231 basketball bounce juggles in one minute. If that weren’t enough, she was once featured in a shoe commercial alongside NBA Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.  She even performed with the Harlem Globetrotters inside the Smoothie King Center. See what I mean about a superstar? This girl is on FIRE.

It was a bit scary at first, but I don't get stage fright when doing things I'm really good at. I think the thing that made the biggest impression was running past a 7-foot-tall man to do a layup, as per the routine. He was just so big.  -Zaila

Do you think we will see Zaila in the WNBA one day? It is very possible. But, Zaila says she hopes to become an archaeologist one day. Wait, what? Spelling star, basketball star, AND archaeologist?!

I like to dig in the dirt, and I really like fossils and stuff. My mother wanted to be an archaeologist and my father was about to get degrees in anthropology.  -Zaila

I want to be Zaila when I grow up. I love her attitude and drive. Zaila, thank you for representing the state of Louisiana in such a positive light, and CONGRATULATIONS!