Slimy. Dark. Cold. Wet. Slippery. Scary. Fun. Such were the adjectives used to describe a night in a cave beneath West Virginia's highest mountain. For 14 high school juniors, it was an experience never to be forgotten -- an adventure in underground discovery, in establishing friendships, helping one another over the rough spots, and getting some sleep (though very little, they will all tell you, as there were too many drips from the cave's ceiling).
The night in the cave was their "baptismal rite" at the start of a six-week program on Spruce Knob Mountain near Franklin, West Virginia. But the 14 students had already been through a rigorous process to get there, long before they began the steep trek up the mountain and into the cave.
They were among 100 juniors from all across the state, selected from 700 applicants on the basis of their personal achievements and goals for the Woodlands West Virginia Honor Roll. The honor roll, a program of the Woodlands Mountain Institute, is designed to develop new leadership "that will eventually impact both West Virginia and the world by combining the rich cultural values of the Appalachian heritage with academic and scholarly excellence," according to program director Michael S. Curry.
Each of the honor roll students attended one of five three-day symposia held on college campuses throughout the state in the spring. On the basis of their participation there, and through interviews and writing samples, 14 were chosen for the summer Woodlands West Virginia Scholars Program.