There aren't many opportunities for most Americans to become "knights" or "ladies". Maybe that is why the Golden Horseshoe is such a coveted award in West Virginia.
Most Mountaineers are very familiar with this award. It is given to eighth graders who earn the highest scores in their county on a test about West Virginia. It's a very simple idea that was originated by Phil M. Conley, an editor of The West Virginia Review. He wanted to promote the study of state history by forming West Virginia Clubs.
In late 1929, Conley took his idea to State Superintendent of Free Schools William C. Cook. Agreeing with the concept, Cook believed students "should learn more about the State, since they are our future citizens and should be fully prepared for citizenship. They should have a knowledge of the past and present status of the State in order to estimate its future possibilities."
It was a great idea that was originally adopted in 1930 with the organization of 2,736 clubs with more than 48,000 members. Just one year later the first Golden Horseshoe ceremony was held in which 87 students from 46 counties were honored as Knights and Ladies of the Golden Horseshoe. The Golden Horseshoe became known as a symbol of scholastic achievement to honor students who excel in the study of West Virginia.
In our great state it is a lifelong honor to have won a Golden Horseshoe. This point was brought home to me just a few weeks ago. Two other adults and I were talking shortly after the current Wetzel County winners were announced. They related their stories of taking the Golden Horseshoe test some 25 years earlier. One vividly remembered his essay answer. The other talked of how she didn't score high enough for the honor. I sat and listened, related how I didn't even remember there being an essay contest, then added that I was indeed a Lady of the Golden Horseshoe. "You would be!" they said. It amazed me how a high score on one test in the course of life could create such pride and admiration.
I think just about the only thing that makes the golden pin so coveted is our notorious Mountaineer pride. We are very proud of our state and heritage; the Golden Horseshoe is the true badge of honor in this respect.
Given that, it only makes sense that this is the longest running program of its kind in any state. That same Golden Horseshoe pride has also spurred reunions. I must admit that as one of the 15,000 people who could attend this event planned for June 19 at the capitol, I find a reunion of this group a bit odd. We were simply students who scored well on a test given in our respective schools who came together for one short day. Yes, it was momentous and memorable, but I don't know the other students who were there that day, save for one of my classmates. I think the point of a reunion is to "catch up" with old friends, so for me this reunion doesn't appeal to me. However, they do have some interesting events planned.
There will be a special ceremony for Golden Horseshoe winners who were unable to attend their eighth grade induction as well as tours of the Capitol and the newly renovated State Museum. In the evening, Golden Horseshoe Winners will be honored at a free concert at Haddad Riverfront Park. If you are a knight or lady and want to register for the reunion, the deadline is Friday and the registration fee is $25. For more information visit www.wv.gov/ghreunion or contact the Department of Education and the Arts at 304-558-2440.