On Friday, 223 eighth-graders from across West Virginia earned recognition as Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. This recognition honors students with the highest achievement in knowledge of West Virginia history and culture.

Calhoun County students receiving the recognition: Austin Baker, Calhoun Middle/High School and Brylee Rowe, Little Kanawha Valley Christian School.

Though students were unable to be knighted in person by Governor Jim Justice and State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many counties have honored their winning students individually and through social media. The West Virginia Department of Education plans to honor these students at a later date, according to a news release.

“These amazing students carry on a tradition of excellence as Knights of the Golden Horseshoe,” Burch said. “Though we have not yet been able to celebrate these incredible students, I want to express how proud I am of each one of them, and I know they will serve as incredible ambassadors for the Mountain State for many years to come.”

West Virginia has administered the Golden Horseshoe test each year since 1931 and is the longest running program of its kind in the United States, officials said. The top-scoring students in each county receive the prestigious award. Each county has at least two winners. The exam tests students’ knowledge of West Virginia citizenship, civics and government, economics, geography, history and current events, and is considered one of the greatest honors bestowed upon students in West Virginia.

This year marks the 304th anniversary of the Golden Horseshoe tradition, which began in the early 1700s in Virginia when then-Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood saw the need for exploration of the land west of the Allegheny Mountains, most of which is now West Virginia.

Spotswood organized a party of about 50 men to explore the frontier. At the end of the exploration, he presented each member of the party with a golden horseshoe. Translated from Latin, the inscription on each horseshoe read, “Thus he swears to cross the mountains.” On the other side was written, “Order of the Golden Horseshoe.” Because of this, the recipients became known as “The Knights and Ladies of the Golden Horseshoe.”