MORGANTOWN — The sun was golden overhead at The Crab Shack Caribba late Thursday afternoon.
Its rays dappled the surface of Cheat Lake, and as the big star dropped behind the mountains for the night, it tinged the clouds with orange and purple, for a proper sendoff.
With a band under a thatch-topped stage playing Jimmy Buffett tunes, the vibe was just-plain tropical.
Even with the foghorn, sideline tones of Billy Hahn cutting through the proceedings.
“Hey, Michelle,” the former WVU basketball coach rasped into a microphone.
“You’d better get ready, girl. ‘Cause you’re going to Hawaii.”
And, just like that, Michelle James, a 17-year-old high school senior from Harrison County who is slam-dunking leukemia, became a Make-A-Wish kid.
“Are you kidding me?” she said, grinning. “No one told me.”
Which was the whole idea, said Jackie Auten, a regional manager with the northern West Virginia chapter of the organization that grants special wishes to children and young adults battling serious medical conditions.
“She’s such a sweet kid,” Auten said of the latest recipient, who wants to study psychology in college after her senior year at Lincoln High.
“We put in a lot of work making it a surprise for her.”
Part of the evening at the popular restaurant was devoted to thanking the volunteers and sponsors who, well, make Make-A-Wish go.
A silent auction was held along with the live one that had Hahn serving as the auctioneer.
“It takes a lot of dollars and lot of good people to be able to grant these wishes,” the coach said.
Hahn got involved with the organization four years ago, when a youngster was granted a day with the WVU Men’s basketball team for his wish.
Make-A-Wish kids go to Disney World and Hollywood. They are granted audiences with Michael Jordan, John Cena and Miley Cyrus.
Last year the West Virginia chapter granted 705 wishes.
If a wish is a shopping spree or a trip to the zoo, so be it, Auten said. “We’ll work with our kids and our families,” she said.
In the James house, mom Laurie worked hard to keep the secret.
“She knew they were working on a trip to Hawaii, and she knew that we were coming up here tonight,” Laurie James said.
Anytime Michelle would mention Hawaii, though, Laurie James employed a time-honored mom tactic: She changed the subject.
The whole family, Michelle, Laurie, dad Jesse and little brother, Jesse, 12 — “It’s his middle name, but that’s what he goes by,” Mom explained — will jet to Hawaii in November.
Hawaii will be the farthest Michelle has traveled from home. She’s been as far south as Tampa, Fla., and she’s never flown before.
“That’ll be an adventure,” she said.
“I want to see Pearl Harbor. And the volcanoes. And I really just want to thank Make-A-Wish.”