Jansen Badinger greeted staff and students at Central Valley High School’s front doors as they arrived for the school day.
With a beaming smile and sincerity that all who encountered him said couldn’t be faked, the 18-year-old would say: “Good morning. Have a great day.”
“You could hear him from the back of the parking lot,” said Sophie Whitsett, a CV junior. “He was just always a happy person, and even if you didn’t know him, you felt like you did.”
Badinger’s life ended abruptly Tuesday when he tried to swim across the Spokane River and drowned near the Sullivan Road bridge. He and his girlfriend had seen others swim across and followed. Rescuers pulled Badinger from a 5-foot-deep pool.
More than 300 students gathered Tuesday night for a vigil in his honor, reeling from the loss of the recent CV graduate. Posts to a Facebook page in his memory numbered into the hundreds on Wednesday, not surprising for a teen linked with more than 1,700 people through the social network site.
“When such a caring heart leaves us it really impacts the community. Jansen was really a great kid and a genuine person,” said Marcus Jean Claude Maxey, a close friend.
In high school, Badinger participated in DECA and the leadership program. He played soccer until his junior year and joined the track team last spring.
This year, students gave him the “Bear 4 Life” award and a page in the yearbook for his school spirit.
“He went to pretty much every sporting event and sat in the front row with face paint on or with pompoms, cheering the kids on,” said Heather Galloway, his 10th-grade language arts teacher and the school’s yearbook adviser.
He didn’t just go to the popular sports, such as basketball and football, she said. Badinger would go to the soccer and volleyball games, and he consistently supported the girls’ teams. His Facebook page shows numerous photographs demonstrating his school spirit.
Galloway’s biggest memory of Badinger is his smile and the joy he had in his eyes, she said.
“He smiled all the time,” she said. “That’s the image that’s burned in my head.”
She added, Badinger was a “kid who would have made a great impact on the world.”
Outside of high school, sports also played a significant role in Badinger’s life, and he often mentored younger children.
He played with the FC Soccer Club for four years, said Stephen Brown, his coach. Badinger also used to help younger players during soccer camps.
“I really don’t think the kid had a bad bone in his body,” Brown said. “The kind of kid you want to have around. He was a people’s person.”
He added, “It’s tragic, it really is. Sometimes you question why this happens to good people.”
Badinger’s desire to mentor kids in sports transferred well into a job. He worked at Jackson Sports Academy with founder Cecil Jackson, who was close to the family.
“He was a great mentor,” Jackson said. “He just had a love for doing it.”
When Badinger was 15, he began shadowing Jackson at the academy. This summer, the teen was leading a summer sports camp that gives low-income kids the opportunity to learn a variety of sports.
“Jansen was just an all-around great kid,” Jackson said. “He had a huge heart.”