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'Bringing a human side to us' | Coin toss aims to flip viewpoint on officials

Thom Dartt, a Toledo native, began selecting kids to serve as honorary captains at high school football games to help humanize the profession of referees.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Throughout the course of any athletic event, officials and referees often go unnoticed.

"We are human people, we're not just out here officiating a football game," Whitmer grad and 22-year veteran official Dean Grzegorczyk said. "We do care about people."

To help drive that point forward, Grzegorczyk and fellow referee partner Thom Dartt came up with an idea. One that started with a simple act of kindness. 

"Any time I'd come out of the locker room, I'd see a kid in a wheel chair or special-needs kid, I'd give them a flag," Grzegorczyk said. "Just the smile on their face, it's overwhelming."

Dartt, who had recently created the Perfect Fit Athletic Foundation, a non-profit designed to help high school athletes, then took Grzegorczyk's generosity and expanded it. Through his charity, Dartt reached out to Fleming's Referee & Sport and the Wilson Football Factory for help.

"Within a couple minutes of me hitting send with the email, they both responded back that they were in," Dartt, a 12-year veteran football official and Toledo native, said.

With donations of footballs, flags, whistles and other equipment at their disposal, the honorary captain kicked off.

For the first time, this season, their crew has selected a deserving kid to join them for the coin toss in every game they've officiated. It didn't take long -- in the very first week, in fact -- for their goal to be reached by one of the mothers in Norwalk.

"She said, 'We usually look at you guys as striped shirts and not as human beings. We don't mean to but we do,' Dartt explained. "She also said, 'This is amazing that you are showing this side of who you are.'"

It is a moment that denotes the start a football game, but quickly flips to providing much needed support for those in need.

"Any way that we can do this, where it makes an impact on a young person's life, especially a person who is going through some adversity," Dartt said. "That's a victory in my opinion and not for us, but for the kids and their families."

On top of meeting the crew of officials, each honorary captain receives a bag full of referee equipment. 

All of this has this local pair of refs meet another goal.

"I got a football, supplies and a whistle," middle schooler Dana Smith Jr. said. "I never did officiating before, so I might do that."

Grzegorczyk and Dartt selected Smith Jr. to be the honorary captain for the Woodward/Start game last week after he helped a young boy fix his broken bike.

"There have been kids and parents who have asked about becoming an official," Dartt said. "Whether they'll follow through on that, I don't know but just the fact that they're asking is a big step."

MORE INFO | Northwest District Football Officials Association 

The call to humanize a profession has been a huge hit this fall. So much so, we may see it grow onto a bigger stage.  

"I definitely want it to be an annual thing, in fact my mind is starting to go toward getting Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame football involved," Dartt said.

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