Letters to the Editor

June 02, 2003

Forget brass ring, we want the gold shoe

By Lyn Widmyer

The Golden Horseshoe.

Each spring, 8th grade students in West Virginia's 55 counties compete to get one. Author Henry Gates describes the Golden Horseshoe as "the Nobel prize of eighth graders in West Virginia." Only 221 students from across the state receive the award.

To earn a Golden Horseshoe, a student must be a top scorer on a test all about West Virginia history, government and culture. A 1941 history book of West Virginia describes the Golden Horseshoe test as an "examination so difficult that it would baffle most adult West Virginians."

Questions might include naming a famous Shawnee warrior whose father was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant (Tecumseh) or identifying which direction the Greenbrier River flows (west/southwest).


I would definitely flunk the test although I could answer a question about West Virginia Day. It is celebrated on June 20. I know because I once tried to renew my driver's license that day. Question: Is the Department of Motor Vehicles open on West Virginia Day? Answer: NO.

The Golden Horseshoe competition has been going on for 70 years but it commemorates an event that occurred three centuries ago.

In the 1700s, Gov. Alexander Spotswood dispatched a scouting party to explore the frontier. When they returned, he presented each with a golden horseshoe. They became known as the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe.

Today, winning students kneel and are dubbed as knights and ladies of the Golden Horseshoe Society at a ceremony in Charleston. An antique sword is used, making this event one of the few scholastic competitions involving weaponry.

In Jefferson County, winning the Golden Horseshoe has become a tradition in many families. All three daughters in the Marcum household earned the award as students at Harpers Ferry Junior High. Their mother, Nancy, competed some 40 years ago in Tucker County, but did not score high enough to be knighted.

Dale Flanagan took the test in 1964 in Hampshire County. He scored a 97.5 but it wasn't good enough to qualify. "I still remember the question that tripped me up," he reports, with only a tinge of bitterness in his voice. "It was about how West Virginia raises sources of revenues. I got confused and missed it." Flanagan says he is "blessed" to have his three sons dubbed as knights of the Golden Horseshoe Society while at Charles Town Junior High.

The Marcums and the Flanagans have lived in the state for decades so their interest in West Virginia history comes naturally.

More recent arrivals to the county have yet to appreciate the prestige and honor associated with the award. Even though the population in Jefferson County is going up, student interest in competing for the Golden Horseshoe is going down. Linda Hine, a teacher involved in the Golden Horseshoe program for more than 30 years, says it is a struggle to get children to compete. She is most concerned that too many students are quick to ridicule the state and show little interest in West Virginia history.

Homer Hickam, whose rocketry experiments as a teenager in Coalwood, West Virginia were the basis for the movie "October Sky," would find this hard to understand. Even with his fame as a novelist, he says he still regrets not winning a Golden Horseshoe award. He eventually received an honorary Golden Horseshoe in 1999 for his positive contributions to the state's image.

As for Dale Flanagan and Nancy Marcum, who did not win the award themselves but inspired their children to become knights and ladies of the Golden Horseshoe Society, I would like to offer my own belated award.

Dale and Nancy, I dub thee extraordinary.

Lyn Widmyer is a resident of Charles Town, W.Va.

Closing schools is never an easy choice

To the editor:

Why did the Washington County Board of Education voted to close Conococheague Elementary School and combine it with Maugansville?

When a school is closed, many people are affected in many ways. Parents and students develop loyalties to their schools and to its traditions. Employees develop the ability to perform competently in familiar physical and social surroundings. Therefore, schools should never be closed for light or transient reasons, and it is right and proper for the community to expect the board to explain its actions.

Conococheague is a building with many physical inadequacies. Among these inadequacies are a lack of city water, city sewage service, air-conditioning, a fire sprinkler system and a separate gymnasium. Additionally, the use of portable classrooms means that children must travel through bitter winter weather conditions to get to other classes or to the restroom.

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