LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) - Whether dribbling a basketball or identifying obscure Latin or Greek roots, Zaila Avant-garde doesn't show much stress.
The 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana, breezed to the championship at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, becoming the first African American winner and only the second Black champion in the bee's 96-year history.
Zaila has described spelling as a side hobby, although she routinely practiced for seven hours a day. She is a basketball prodigy who hopes to play someday in the WNBA and holds three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously.
Only one word gave her any real trouble, "nepeta," a genus of Old World mints, and she jumped even higher when she got that one right than she did when she took the trophy.
Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas, was runner-up. Both Zaila and Chaitra are coached by Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student who was the 2015 Scripps runner-up.
The only previous Black winner of the bee was Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998. Zaila also breaks a streak dating back to 2008 during which at least one champion or co-champion was of South Asian descent.
Earlier, finalists received a visit from one of the nation's most prominent educators. First lady Jill Biden met with spellers and their families before the bee Thursday evening and stayed to watch the competition.
She told the spellers that she and President Joe Biden are proud of what they accomplished. She also said she won her school spelling bee in sixth grade but was too nervous to compete in regionals.
Biden previously attended the bee in 2009 in Washington. She's an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College.