There is a saying that if something in the world comes to you, you often have that choice during the process. The option is either to take it and run with it or just do it for one time and see if it opens doors to other possibilities. When it comes to the ''Play Unified Podcast'�, Michael Kelley, Charles Hirsch, Erin Fish, Lumene Montissol, and Ali Phaneuf have had a passion for it in the last four years. Today, they celebrate their 50th episode together and got a chance to reflect on their experience together and what they are looking at moving forward.
In January 2020, Charles brought back the podcast while Mike was working as a Communication intern in the spring semester at Worcester State. ''When I hosted the podcast with Nick Savarese (former VP of Philanthropy at Special Olympics MA) we always worked to bring athletes on as guests. But after Nick moved on to the Flutie foundation, I didn't have a co-host and the show was tabled." Charles said.
''Mike reached out about an internship with Special Olympics while at Worcester State and when working with him to develop the plan, I thought it was a great opportunity to resurrect the podcast and this time with a Special Olympics athlete as a co-host leading the direction of the show and living up to the show's title: ''Play Unified'�. When Mike was asked about the podcast, he said ''It has allowed me to express my opinion on any topic, Special Olympics or professional wise, and try to spark a debate if anyone had opinions that would make the discussion interesting. Along with that, it helped me improve the skills I am looking to have when I am pursuing a career in television or radio broadcasting."
Despite an 11-month hiatus due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Charles and Mike continued to develop new ways to get people involved and stay in touch with each other. That was when they created the ''SOMA Athlete Chats", a Zoom group chat that happens twice a week where athletes, coaches, etc. come on and talk about almost anything and do fun activities, including Wordle and Family Feud. ''The podcast is a presentation from the hosts to the audience. I saw the Athlete chats as an opportunity to have conversations with friends." Charles said. ''There was no audience and no hosts, just a bunch of folks who were stuck at home trying to make their way through a pandemic. The first few editions of the chats were a really great way to check in on folks and make sure everyone had an outlet that was taken from them when Special Olympics shut down training and competition."
''Instead of talking 1-on-1 with each other, the chats gave us an opportunity to hear from others and what they have to say when we bring up topics." Mike said. ''One time when we asked how anyone thought about Tom Brady joining the Bucs, no one wanted to talk about it and we definitely picked up the vibe quickly."
By February 2021, Mike and Charles relaunched and continued the podcast from that point and didn't look back. Along with keeping listeners updated about Special Olympics and Pro sports, the podcast includes guest speakers inside and out and a lighting round hosted by Lumene.
"The best thing about being the Lightning Round host is giving the most awesome questions and making everyone smile and surprise in every Unified podcast and making me feel to express myself for who I am as the Lightning Round host." Lumene said. ''I'll always spread happiness at the beginning of Lightning Round and for the new year, I can still continue to make new happiness along the way as the Lightning Round host."
In mid-August 2021, Charles and Mike acquired Erin, currently SOMA's Manager of Marketing and Media Production. When asked about her experience, Erin stated, ''I wasn't familiar with the Play Unified Podcast before starting at Special Olympics Massachusetts, but I was thrilled when Charles asked me to get involved!" Since her debut, the podcast improved to help promote it, including a 30-60 second teaser posted on social media platforms to have followers excited to hear what the podcast will have on the latest episode. ''Using this podcast as a platform to promote inclusion and our mission is super important and I hope I have helped do that during the short time that I have been involved."
By the Fall of 2022, Erin got an opportunity to do some digital content for Team USA's Men National Soccer Team in Qatar competing for the FIFA World Cup. While she was out, Mike and Charles recruited Ali, SOMA's Marketing Manager, to join the podcast and participate in the experience. ''I never thought that I would ever be on a podcast, let alone a podcast about sports." Ali said when asked. ''Being asked to join the Play Unified Podcast was so exciting; and while I was nervous to fill Erin's shoes, I loved every second I got to spend chatting with Mike and Charles about all things Special Olympics." Despite Team USA's early departure following their loss to the Netherlands, Mike, Erin, and Charles wanted to continue the podcast with Ali and it went from a threesome to a foursome.
While the podcast can include interesting debates and have some cool facts to give its listeners, one thing that makes the experience amazing is how it creates friendships that can last a lifetime. ''It feels like a family business. We all enjoy Special Olympics and the podcast together, but it doesn't measure up to our love for each other and being together bi-weekly." Mike said.
''We are a family of co-workers with completely different personalities that all complement each other in an incredible way." Ali added. ''Whether we're making fun of me for my lack of sports knowledge, or Charles for his jokes that no one understands, we can all give each other a hard time; but will also pump each other up each week."
''I look forward to getting together with these guys every other Friday." Erin included. ''We all have so much fun together and our different personalities really bring an entertaining aspect to the podcast."
Now with 50 episodes added to their resume, the whole team took an opportunity to reflect on how far this experience has been. ''It's hard to believe that we made 50 episodes already but it's a proud accomplishment." Mike said.
''50 is just the start! It is my hope that we continue to bring on inspiring guests and share the mission of Special Olympics with the entire world." Erin said.They also thought about what they could do to upgrade the podcast to make it more interesting. ''Hopefully we can upgrade to having a studio for all of us to get together and do the podcast in person." Mike said.