Senate Resolution to Congratulate First Louisianan to Win National Spelling Bee

After Zaila Avant-garde became the first Louisianan to ever win the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on July 8, 2021, Louisiana senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy introduced a resolution to the Senate congratulating her on her massive achievement, according to a KATC article.

Born in Harvey, Louisiana, the 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became not only the first Louisiana resident to win first prize at the 93rd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, but   Avant-garde was the first African-American Champion of the event in its total 96-year history.

The final rounds of the event took place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida after the event had originally been postponed the previous year due to COVID-19. Avant-garde, whose last name is in honor of the jazz legend John Coltrane, won the competition by correctly spelling the word “murraya,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as being “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals.”

Upon winning the competition, Avant-garde, who has only been spelling competitively for just two years, quickly became a notable household name in the United States as she was congratulated by numerous celebrities, nationalinstitutions, and American presidents.

Throughout the competition, Zaila Avant-garde was very vocal about her dream to attend Harvard University after high school, but that hasn’t stopped Louisiana’s higher learning institutions from attempting to recruit her just hours following her win. Just one day after she had claimed the $50,000 grand prize for correctly spelling her final word, Avant-garde had received a formal invitation from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System offering her a full-ride scholarship to attend any of Louisiana’s community and technical colleges.

This preliminary offer was then followed by William Tate, the newly-named president of Louisiana State University, offering the teenage champion a full-ride scholarship to the LSU Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College the following morning. Afterward, Baton Rouge’s Southern University became the third Louisiana academic institution to offer Avant-garde a full-ride scholarship.

Like LSU’s president, Southern University president-chancellor Ray L. Benton offered the scholarship to Zaila via Twitter, but Benton also created a “Zaila Day” at the school in honor of the speller’s remarkable achievement, saying, “”our student leaders, faculty, and alumni look forward to meeting with you. We welcome you to the #JaguarNation!”

So now, outside of her being gifted numerous scholarships from academic institutions, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, and receiving an invitation to attend the ESPY Awards from the event’s celebrity host Anthony Mackie, Avant-garde has a biography and a congratulatory resolution in the senate thanks to Louisiana senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.

The full resolution highlights the younger speller’s many accomplishments in the world of spelling such as her spending “most of her days spelling around 13,000 words per day” and going on to having “survived several rounds of fierce competition this year” facing off against competitors “from across the United States, American Samoa, the Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Guam, Jamaica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.”

The resolution also highlights the impressive fact that Zaila Avant-garde currently holds three Guinness World Records for basketball, specifically for the most basketballs dribbled simultaneously, the most basketball bounces, and the most bounce juggles in one minute.

The Senate resolution continued to congratulate Avant-garde on winning the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, an event that is described as being “the largest and longest-running educational promotion in the United States and is administered by the E.W. Scripps Company and local sponsors, most of whom publish daily and weekly newspapers.”

Apart from the congratulations, the resolution also served to solidify the fact that the champion, named “Miss Zaila” in the resolution, is the first winner from the State of Louisiana as well as the first African-American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, thus bringing “an immense sense of pride” to her hometown of Harvey and the state as a whole.

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New Iberian to Compete in Olympic Pole Vaulting

A New Iberia Native is set to compete in Olympic Pole Vaulting in the Tokyo 2020 Games, according to this feature from The Advocate. The event will be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 23 to August 8, 2021; the event was postponed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At only 22 years old, New Iberia, Louisiana’s  Morgann Leleux will be competing in pole vaulting as a member of the United States Women’s Track and Field Olympic Team. Leleux competed in the women’s pole vault finals at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday, June 26th; at the event she finished second to qualify for the Summer Olympic Games.

At the pole vaulting finals, Leleux finished second in pole vaulting with a personal-best clearance of 15 feet and 5 inches; the clearance rate was behind Katie Nageortte’s 16-2.75 rate and ahead of Sandi Morris’s 15-1 clearance.

Despite this, Leleux told reporters that she was much more anxious and nervous for the recently-held qualifying trials than these Eugene Olympic trials, saying “there was a lot more on the line. Everything was on the line to make the finals. Once I made the finals, in my mind I was focused on winning.”

Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, Morgann Leleixux was a multi-state champion at Catholic High School, and an All-American and SEC Champion at the University of Georgia, and a 2016 All-American graduate at the University of Louisiana, where she was also an alternate for the 2016 Olympic Games.

One week after she qualified for the Summer 2020 Games, Morgann Leleux returned to her hometown to participate in a July 2nd parade that honored the famous pole vaulter. Hosted by Mayor Freddie DeCourt, the parade began in front of New Iberia’s City Hall and celebrated throughout the city’s downtown on Friday, July 2nd with citizens cheering their support for Leleux along the city’s East Main Street.

Before the postponement of the 2020 Summer Games due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, she was also expected to make a run for the Tokyo Qualifying match, so now that she has her shot, Leleaux says that she doesn’t want to waste it.

Leleux said, “I’m a way-better vaulter than I was in 2016. Mentally, I’m tougher. I’m more confident in myself. I have the physical ability, I’m injury-free and I’ve also worked a lot on the mental side of it. It could have been any one of five of us today. I knew I had to fight, bar by bar, one at a time. To be honest with you, we’re all going to have to jump higher in the Games, but my attitude is that I’m going there to medal.”

It’s important to note that Morgann Leleux won’t be the only Acadiana-area athlete to compete in the upcoming Olympic Games; she is joined alongside Nicole Ahsinger and Aliaksei Shostak in trampoline gymnastics and  Armand “Mondo” Duplantis in pole vaulting as well.

While Leleux is the eighth-ever Ragin’ Cajuns athlete to qualify for the Olympic Summer Games, she is entering the competition alongside the world indoor record holder in pole vaulting: Duplantis. Seen as the favorite at this year’s games, Duplantis is an American-born, Swedish pole vaulter who attended Lafayette High School and will be competing against Leleux in pole vaulting at the Summer Games.

Everyone on Morgan Leleux’s support team from her various coaches, family members, and friends are excited to see her compete with world-class athletes internationally this summer, as they’ve always seen great things for the pole vaulting stand out.

Morgann’s father and youth coach, Shane Leleux, said of his daughter, “her maturity level is off the charts right now. I hate to use a baseball analogy, but I will. When she was on her third try at 4.6 (meters), it was like having three balls and two strikes with two out in the ninth inning, and in my mind, she was the last batter, and all she did was hit it out of the park.”

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Proposals May Give Louisiana a New State Motto and an Additional Song

Two bills that recently passed through Louisiana’s House Judiciary Committee proposed a change to the state’s motto and a new addition to the official state songs, as detailed in an article from The Daily Advertiser.

In early May, State Representative Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, proposed HB 17, which would change the Louisiana state motto from “Union, Justice, Confidence” to “We live and die for those we love.” After much deliberation and well-supported arguments from the congressman, the proposal passed by a vote of 10-2.

Representative Nelson supported his bill by reminding House Judiciary Committee members that the current state motto was never established by a passed statute, thus making it the perfect time to instate a new motto that is “much more indicative of who we are as a people, what we believe and stand for as a people, and what sets us apart from everywhere else,” according to Nelson.

He went on to clarify that forms of the proposed new motto already exist on Louisiana law licenses and the very walls of the State Capitol building. When committee members passed the bill, they added that the new statute would not require any official state flags, buildings, or seals to be corrected as a result of the motto change as the bill would only ensure the new slogan as the official Louisiana motto going forward.

Nelson remarked, “we’re not going to tear up any carpets or tear up any flags. If we were going to build a new state capitol, this motto would be on the building instead. When new flags are bought, they will have the new motto.”

Later during the same Judiciary Committee meeting, Representatives Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, and Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, presented HB351, which proposed an additional entry to Louisiana’s official state songs.

As of now, the state currently holds five titles as its official state song: Doralise Fontane’s “Give Me Louisiana,” Jimmie Davis’s “You Are My Sunshine” and “State March Song,” and Frances LeBeau’s  “Gifts of the Earth.”

HB351 passed through the Judiciary Committee, and it proposes the addition of Louisiana musician Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” to the state records. Toussaint originally wrote the song and released it on the album of his of the same name in 1975.

Louisiana Zydeco musician and two-time Grammy Award winner Terrance Simien expressed his support for the inclusion of Toussaint’s song and lasting Louisiana legacy by saying “Allen Toussaint was a true Louisiana legend. I’ve been talking to a lot of people in the music world, and this song would be a great addition to our state songs. Allen was not only a great artist but also a great human being. I just can’t say enough about him and just want to ask you to consider this.”

The case for Allen Toussaint’s inclusion is strong, as the musician is a well-respected Louisiana musician who is a member of not only the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame but the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, andthe Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After hearing the strong case for “Southern Nights” and having Judiciary Committee members praise and uphold the Toussaint Legacy, HB351 passed without any objections.

Toussaint, a New Orleans-based musician who played alongside Elvis Costello, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, and Irma Thomas, originally wrote “Southern Nights” while he was in Houma, Louisiana and missing his family in New Orleans. The song’s lyrics give testament to the themes of family and longing that are well-known to the average Louisiana citizen. Furthermore, the images depicted in the song of “weeping willows [crying] for joy” and “precious beauty” noticed in the “southern skies” above are a part of a shared Louisiana imagery that all who call this state their home can relate to.

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Notable Louisiana Trivia For Everyone

You can be a Crowley native or a tourist who has heard exciting tales from friends spending their vacations in New Orleans, and no matter your history with the southern boot-shaped state, there’s always more to discover. The following collection of cajun country facts is adapted from Mental Floss’s list of “25 Fascinating Louisiana Facts’, a true curation of details that could only have been learned by true first-hand cajun accounts and not on the back of Bourbon Street postcards. Enjoy this Louisiana trivia.

Capital Nickname- Louisiana Trivia 

It’s well known that the capital city of Louisiana is Baton Rouge, and it’s alleged that its name’s french translation of “red stick” is attributed to the French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. Supposedly he names the territory after an observation he made while wandering along the Mississippi River bluff, spotting a polie covered in animal blood. This odd sight served as a territory marker that signified the division of land between the Indian tribes of Bayougoula and Houma.

Notorious Notes- Louisiana Trivia

Often associated with Louisiana due to its prominence across the state, the musical genre of jazz was born in the state, despite the exact year being unknown. It’s often accepted that it originated in the later half of the 19th century or it was blown through a trumpet and into existence with the first jazz song recorded by Nick LaRocca and his “Original Dixieland Jass Band’s single, Livery Stable Blues.”

King of Cakes & Carnivale- Louisiana Trivia

Every Mardi Gras season brings a lot of tourism, culture, and acclaim to the city of New Orleans, but the Crescent City also sells approximately 500,000 king cakes annually with an additional 50,000 cakes being shipped out nationwide to out-of-state customers and fans of the classic dessert. Originating as part of an Epiphany tradition from the 14th century, the official cake of Mardi Gras is topped with the symbolic colors of purple, green, and gold, signifying justice, faith, and power, respectively. Whether they’re coming for the King Cakes or not, the city of New Orleans sees approximately 1.4 million people attending Mardi Gras in the famed city each year. Compare this to the 384,000 people that populate the city outside of the holiday, and it’s easy to find “where the party’s at.”

Gator Country- Louisiana Trivia

In the United States, Louisiana is among the top states housing the most alligators in the country, with over 300,000 residing in alligator farms and an additional 2,000,000 roaming the wild. The industry of alligator hides and raw meats collectively bring the state around $57 million annually.

Good Times- Louisiana Trivia

Often associated in tourist and cajun branding, the phrase “Laissez les bon temps rouler” is a word-for-word translation of “let the good times roll.” This exact phrasing, while wildly popular, is technically grammatically incorrect, at least in the French Language, where you would be corrected to “Prenons du bons temps” instead.

Elevating Spirits- Louisiana Trivia

Interestingly enough, the highest point in the state is the Driskill Mountain, located just East of Shreveport at a modest 535 feet above sea level. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the state’s lowest point is the city of New Orleans itself at an astounding eight feet below sea level. New Orleans is also the second lowest point of elevation in the entire United States, attributing to its cemeteries housing above-ground mausoleums instead of the tombstones and markers found in other cities.

Celebrated Capitals- Louisiana Trivia

Often celebrated for its individuality, Louisiana is home to many international accolades, including being home to the Crawfish Capital of the World (Breaux Bridge), Dog Trot Capital of the World (Dubach), Frog Capital of the World(Rayne), Cajun Music Capital of the World (Mamou), Duck Capital of the World (Ghueydan), and Rice Capital of the World (Crowley).

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The Cajun Hatter Returns to Cajun Country

This month a Louisiana hat-maker relocated his custom-made hat shop from New Orleans’ Magazine Street to the heart of downtown Lafayette in an attempt to reconnect with his cajun roots, as reported in an Advocate feature.

Colby Hebert, the owner of The Cajun Hatter, is relocating his shop to Jefferson Street so that he can connect with the culture that inspires a bulk of his commissioned orders. The decor of this new location, found on the main thoroughfare of Lafayette, Louisiana’s downtown scene, is aptly decorated with artifacts of Cajun culture at every turn. From the antique room divider in the front parlor space to the moss-laden accenta pieces, reminiscent of a swamp tour, the small Acadiana shop is definitively cloaked in the Acadian style.

Hebert moved his shop to its third location since starting the business; previously The Cajun Hatter had been located in New Iberia and Magazine Street in New Orleans. Hebert identified for The Advocate’s Julia Guilbeau that he felt as if he was doing something wrong by contributing to the legacy of his culture while being two and a half hours apart from it all.

Hebert had said that when in New Orleans, he “was working so hard and in so many ways not only to help with Cajun preservation but also just to step into that Cajun identity that I have in every way. It was at the point where I’m like, I can’t do this anymore and not be here in my culture and directly contributing to my culture.”

From a young age, Colby Hebert, a New Iberia native, was interested in hats as a fashion accessory and always found that he wanted to try his hand at creating something unique and bold in design. He began this journey as a hat collector, inspecting each piece and trying to understand the finer details involved in each hat’s construction. This natural curiosity soon led to Hebert making custom hats whether in his free time or as a part of his profession as a costume designer in the film industry.

From this experience in outfitting actors, Hebert began to see fashion not from the traditional perspectives of a wearer or an observer- but from that of a maker. Soon after departing from the film industry, he opened up a hat shop in New Iberia before later moving to New Orleans, and now Lafayette.

Back in Acadiana, Hebert remarked on the great opportunity he has with his business now by stating, ““we have a great thing here that a lot of people argue is dying out. Being here in that pivotal moment where we start to decide how we want to redefine culture here makes me feel good.”

As expected, each product made in The Cajun Hatter comes personally-crafted, as Hebert makes almost all of his hats by hand, using mainly wooden tools and decades-old traditional techniques of past haberdashers. In fact, the only “real machinery” used are his steamer and iron. Due to the notable quality of the materials, his prices begin at $400, covering the personalization of the product.

In true cajun-country fashion, the hats are being made with beaver, or more recently, felt nutria fur, which is such high quality that it’s likely to outlive the wearer. Hebert notes that nutria are quite an overpopulated species in Louisiana that continue to contribute to coastal erosion, so by using their fur, less overall waste is created.

“You want to make something that is sustainable, lasting and not something that is going to be material or consumer waste,” Hébert said. “[Customers] have chosen a type of fur that creates such a high quality felt that it might outlive you. It might outlive your children.”

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Five Outdoor Adventures to have in Louisiana

It’s no secret that Louisiana has a long and unique history that dates back to pre-America. Louisianans are known worldwide for their diversity, their love for their heritage, being home of Cajun culture, the birthplace of Creole food and jazz, and a state that knows how to celebrate. However, food isn’t the only thing Louisiana has to offer. With year-round warm weather and beautiful landscaping, Louisiana provides ample opportunity for outdoor adventures. You can find outdoor experiences anywhere – like New Orleans, in the Louisiana backwoods, or on the Gulf.

Here are just a few outdoor adventures to make sure you add to your Louisiana bucket list:

Paddling and Kayaking

More than 15% of Louisiana is covered with water – you have the Gulf Coast, swamps, bayous, marshes, and rivers. A great way to really dive into Louisiana’s aquatic ecosystems is through kayak, paddleboat, or canoe. In north Louisiana, you can glide along forests filler with hardwoods, cypress, and tupelo. To the south, there are more than seven water routes that snake through over 170,000 acres of protected wildlife. For a more urban experience, head to New Orleans and paddle in the waters of City Park or the Bayou of St. John.

Golfing

Love to golf? The Audubon Golf Trailhas 16 beautifully landscaped golf courses throughout Louisiana, including:

The Wetlands in Lafayette

Audubon Park in Uptown New Orleans

Santa Maria Golf Coursein Baton Rouge

Island Country Clubnear Plaquemine

Even better news? Regardless of the time of year you’re traveling to Louisiana, the year-round weather means you can golf almost any day of the year!

 Hiking

Although Louisiana is known for its wetlands and marshes, there are a variety of hiking trails for people who prefer to take in the sights by foot. Just a few minutes outside New Orleans are the Barataria Preserve trails in Jean Lafitte National Park, where you’ll find wooden platforms that keep you away from the alligators. Or you can head to North Louisiana to Driskill Mountain, a 1.9 mile trail through the forest. This trail will take you to the highest point of Louisiana, 535 feet above sea level. Near the Mississippi border is the Tunica Hills State Wildlife Management Area, where you can experience wildlife, waterfalls, and rugged terrain.

Swamp Tours

Ready to get a closer look at what’s living in the swamps? You can take a boat ride through Louisiana swamps to get a closeup of the state’s plants, wildlife, and swamp creatures like owls, turtles, alligators, and swimming pigs. Most tour guides will include Cajun food and local music for a more authentic experience. If you’re lucky, you might end up in true Cajun country that’s only accessible by boat.

Beaches

Beaches in Louisiana? There sure are! Get your relax on by heading to Mandeville, a drive that will take you over one of the longest over-water bridges in the world, and layout on the white-sand beaches of Fontainebleau State Park. About two hours south of New Orleans is the barrier island of Grand Isle, where you’ll find ten miles of coastline and sandy beaches bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

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