CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 220 eighth grade students from all 55 West Virginia counties have been knighted as Golden Horseshoe recipients.

The students received the recognition during a ceremony Friday at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

There were at least two winners from each county. The annual ceremony honors eighth graders for the outstanding achievement in knowledge of West Virginia culture and history.

Allegra Kazemzadeh, social studies coordinator for the Office of Middle and Secondary Learning under the state Department of Education, said students take a test developed from West Virginia archives. The test focuses on a civic section, an economic section, a geography section and a history section. Students also learn about the government, the state Legislature and how to vote. The highest scorers in each county receive the special recognition.

“I think that part of it is the fact that we have the ceremony because it’s not just ‘I’ve scored well on a social studies test’ but it’s the fact that then we celebrate the achievements of the students,” Kazemzadeh said.

State School Superintendent Steve Paine knighted each student with a sword before they received a gold pin.

Kazemzadah said it’s a long-running tradition in West Virginia.

“Several teachers and parents here have their golden horseshoes that they’re actually wearing today,” she said.

The tradition started in 1716 by then-Governor Alexander Spotswood.

Governor Jim Justice, speaking to students and parents during Friday’s ceremony, said he couldn’t be more proud of them. He said he’s inspired by their hard work.

“I love these kids and I know you do to. I love their achievement. I tried to become one of them. I didn’t make it. My wife tried to become one of them and didn’t make it,” he said.

As a high school basketball coach, Justice said he’s always valued education. He said he’s never let a student slip through the cracks.

“I’ve been a coach forever. I’ve never cut a kid and I’ve never had a kid become grade ineligible. The reason for that is I stress to them the importance of academics,” he said.

Justice told the students they can do anything they set their minds to.

“One time my grandparents had no indoor plumping. None. Now I’m your governor. In all honesty, you can dream and you can get to anything you want in life,” he said.

Friday was the 302nd anniversary of the Golden Horseshoe tradition.

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