Gajula mug

Sreethan Gajula

UNION COUNTY — Sreethan Gajula, 14, of Waxhaw made Union County proud on Thursday night when he competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Gajula is an eighth grader at Marvin Middle School.

Gajula was the third contestant in the Spelling Bee. The only word he spelled was trochiline — an adjective relating to hummingbirds. He confused the first “i” with an “e.”

From June 12 through the 27th, the National Spelling Bee whittled down 209 contestants to 11 finalists including Gajula. The preliminaries, quarterfinals and semifinals were held virtually; however, the finals were held in person at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney in Orlando Florida on Thursday, July 8.

Gajula was sponsored by the Carolina Panthers. Christian McCaffrey, a running back for the Panthers, sent Gajula a video encouraging him before the competition. McCaffrey said in the video he wished Gajula good luck and if Gajula had a jersey, he’d wear it.

The Carolina Panthers sent Gajula a jersey with “Bee Finalist” written on the back with the number 21. Gajula wore the jersey on a visit to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte where the regional spelling bee was held.

The winner was Zaila Avant-Garde, 14, of Harvey, Louisiana spelling the word Murraya. According to Merriam-Webster, it is a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals.

She has already earned Guinness World Records. Her most impressive skill is juggling six basketballs simultaneously within a minute. In an interview with Scripps, achieving a world record is how she wanted to celebrate her 13th birthday and become a teenager.

She was able to meet Stephen Curry, point guard for the Golden State Warriors. Curry played for Davidson College and is a Charlotte native.

As the champion, Avant-Garde earned $50,000 and an engraved trophy from Scripps. In addition to: $2,500 and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster; $400 worth of reference works and a three-year online membership from Encyclopedia Britannica and (pending availability) appearances on LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live.

There have only been two Scripps winners from North Carolina and both were from Winston Salem. Libby Childress won in 1970 with the word croissant and Doris Ann Hall won in 1952 with the word vignette.