Friendships come in all shapes and sizes, and cancer can be a grueling obstacle to making friends in high school. For Cedar Falls student Will Reinart, who had battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia since he was nine, three years of chemotherapy and a decade of hospital visits made it very difficult.
“We were friends with our doctors because that’s who we saw all the time,” Will’s mom Susan remembers. “That’s who we saw all the time, when you stay at the hospital that long you almost become like family with the docs and the nurses.”
Will’s father Scott understood that it was inherently difficult for his son to make friends at school. Will suffered a stroke, and needed a wheelchair and a walker to relearn how to walk.
“Here’s a kid in a wheelchair right, what do I say to him? Most kids avoided him — just the awkwardness.”
That potential discomfort wasn’t something that deterred Cedar Falls football star Jack Campbell from approaching him. Jack and Will went to preschool together, but weren’t yet well acquainted. When Jack heard of Will’s situation, he tried to be a presence in his life where he could.
“Someone informed me that this kid was having a hard time with things,” Campbell said. “I would just try to encourage him and let him know that I’m thinking of him.”
Campbell helped Will carry his books in between classes and helped raised money for the school’s “coaches against cancer” fundraiser. Reinart missed his entire sophomore year, and ended up graduating high school in 2019.
However, Reinart couldn’t attend the school’s traditional graduation ceremony. The school had planned an alternative ‘mini’ ceremony in the Cedar Falls auditorium. His friend Jack helped spread the word, and Will’s individualized ceremony was anything but ‘mini’.
“2-300 people came,” Susan Reinart said.
“Will had a great day,” Campbell said. “It was just an awesome time to honor him and honor all his accomplishments and honor him for overcoming all of these obstacles.”
Campbell and Reinart’s friendship didn’t waver when Jack went to the University of Iowa in 2019. The Hawkeyes were Will’s favorite team, and he got to text his favorite player before and after games.
“He’d text me after games and I’d text him in the middle of the week just asking him how he’s doing,” Campbell said.
Will’s father Scott implored him to reach out to Jack even if he wasn’t around.
“He was a little shy, quiet, didn’t have that normal life that most kids had so I encouraged him to text Jack so I think that’s what started that,” Scott Reinart said. “Will — he knew so much about Jack as far as statistics and stuff like that so he really followed him so that’s somebody he really looked up to.”
Jack kept up with his hometown friend via text, and supported his friend on his wrist. Will gave his friend Jack, and many others a bracelet with “Will Power” inscribed on it. Jack took the expression ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ to a whole new level.
“I never take it off,” Campbell revealed.
“Anytime times get hard — the encouragement I get through looking at this bracelet and thinking of Will. He was always there for me, cause days weren’t perfect for me. And then I have this guy who is going through one of the worst situations that anyone could go through encouraging me.”
Unfortunately, Reinart passed away in January 2020 at the age of 19. And again, Jack got the chance to play a role in Will’s life: As a pall bearer alongside Will’s two brothers.
“Jack’s name came up as a friend that befriended Will at school,” Susan Reinart said.
“I had the great honor to carry his casket,” Jack Campbell said. “Just what our friendship turned into through text, stuff like that, it meant the world to me.”
Jack had a signed jersey he wanted to give to Will before he passed. His parents Scott and Susan have the jersey framed in their house in Cedar Falls. Scott and Susan have been diehard Hawkeye fans their whole lives, and Will’s brother even performed in the school’s marching band.
But reasons other than their Hawkeye allegiance have made them Jack Campbell fans for life.
“Overall I would say an outstanding young man,” Scott Reinart said. “Just being a friend for Will when no one else did. Hard for me to talk about it. What a great human being. Awesome character. Generous, outgoing, he’s a leader who gives back. You can’t say enough good things about him.”
“From my perspective, Jack took Will under his wing,” Susan Reinart recalls. “He’s just a down-to-earth kid who has a big heart and cares about people and uses his talent to help others.”