Tom Dart, a Toledo native, started selecting kids as honorary captains at high school football games to help humanize the refereeing profession.

TOLEDO, Ohio – Throughout any sporting event, officials and referees often go unnoticed.

“We’re human, we’re not just here to referee a football game,” said Dean Grzegarczyk, a Whitmer graduate and 22-year veteran. “We care about people.”

To push this point forward, Grzegorczyk and fellow partner Tom Dart came up with an idea. One that started with a simple act of kindness.

“Every time I’d come out of the locker room and see a kid in a wheelchair or a kid with special needs, I’d give them a flag,” Grzegorczyk said. “Just the smile on their faces, it’s amazing.”

Dart, who recently started the Perfect Fit Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to help high school athletes, then took advantage of Grzegorczyk’s generosity and expanded it. Through his philanthropy, Dartt turned to Judge Fleming and sports and Wilson Football Factory for help.

“A couple of minutes after I hit send with email, they both said they were in,” said Dart, a 12-year football official and Toledo native.

Having footballs, flags, whistles and other equipment at his disposal, the honorary captain started.

For the first time this season, their team selected a deserving child to join them for the coin toss for each game they officiated. It didn’t take long — within the first week, in fact — for one Norwalk mom to reach her goal.

“She said, ‘We usually look at you guys as striped shirts, not as people. We don’t want to, but we do it,” Dart explained. “She also said, ‘It’s amazing that you’re showing this side of who you are.’

It’s a moment that marks the start of a football game, but quickly transitions to providing much-needed support to those in need.

“Any way we can do it if it affects a young person’s life, especially someone who’s going through some adversity,” Dart said. “In my opinion, this is a win, and not for us, but for the children and their families.”

In addition to meeting the crew of officials, each honorary captain receives a bag full of referee gear.

All this allows this local pair of judges to achieve another goal.

“I have a soccer ball, a tackle and a whistle,” said junior high student Dana Smith. “I’ve never officiated before, so I could do it.”

Last week, Grzegorczyk and Dart named Smith Jr. the honorary captain of the Woodward/Start game after he helped the boy fix his broken bike.

“There were kids and parents asking to become an official,” Dart said. “Whether they will comply, I don’t know, but the fact that they are asking is a big step.”

MORE INFORMATION | North West District Football Officials Association

The call to humanize the profession became a hit this fall. So much so, we can see how this will translate to the bigger stage.

“I definitely want to make it an annual thing, in fact, I’m starting to commit to Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame football,” Dart said.

More on WTOL: