Visit any Disney park and you can see the excitement on the faces of people of all ages; that’s why those parks have been labeled as the “Magical Empire” by countless visitors.
There is magic in the many videos and movies that the sprawling company has produced but what happened recently during filming for a new show called FamJam goes even beyond Disney’s wildest imagination.
After a nation-wide search was conducted to select two families to compete on the first FamJam show, families from Lawton and Seattle were selected to compete for the $10,000 cash prize. The show is billed as a battle between a firefighter and a military member.
That battle for FamJam fame will come at 7:20 p.m. today on the Disney Channel, which is available on most cable and satellite systems.
FamJam is Disney’s version of “Dancing with the Stars” only in this case the competitors are three members of a family who undergo several days of dance training and choreography and then compete before a live studio audience.
The most amazing part of this week’s edition is that both families have deep history in Lawton.
Sunny Puletasi is a former Lawton High School All-State football standout who later played for the University of Wyoming. For the last four years he’s been a member of the Lawton Fire Department and is active in numerous community causes.
He was competing with wife Aubrey and son Cason, both who are talented in their own right. Aubrey, who is in nursing school, is a former cheerleader at Lawton High and Cason has become a talented football player despite being just 10.
They will be competing on today’s show against the Devin Green family, or more correctly Sgt. Devin Green and his family.
Green is a member of the United States Army and from 2002 until 2018 he was stationed at Fort Sill.
“That’s the weird thing; when we got there and met the other family, we found out they’ve been stationed in Lawton for many years,” Puletasi said. “We really hit it off and it made the entire experience even more enjoyable.”
Both families arrived in Hollywood on a Wednesday and then started preparing for the competition.
“It’s basically a job for several days; they really worked us hard,” Puletasi said. “To me it was much like basic training for being a firefighter. We spent four or five hours each day rehearsing and working on our routine.”
Sgt. Green, who is with a MLRS unit now stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McCord in the Seattle area, was competing with wife Ashley and 11-year-old son Dominic. It was Dominic who pushed the family to compete.
“Dominic is a big fan of Phil Wright, who he happened to see on the Ellen (DeGeneres) show talking about his dancing career,” Sgt. Green said. “He and my wife applied to be on the show and we had to make some videos.
“After that we had a phone interview and then just waited to hear from them. We got the call and were really excited about the opportunity.”
Puletasi, who is active on social media, said he was found by Disney after one of his dancing videos went viral.
“They saw my video and thought it was a cool dance and that’s how this all got started,” he said. “The entire experience was well organized. They actually had school for the kids, and we met for three hours each day to discuss the show and taping.
“As far as the dancing, we practiced about eight hours that final day to get ready. To me it was much like football drills or training to be a firefighter. It’s all about muscle memory and doing the same thing each time.”
Sgt. Green said the work was tough.
“To me it was an extremely tough workout,” he said. “It’s basically boots on the ground work. You have to really prepare because they are right there pushing you all the time.”
The Green family is happy to have new friends halfway across the United States.
“It was really a mutual admiration thing when we met them,” Sgt. Green said. “My wife worked at the Oklahoma State University County Health Department in Lawton and she’s been at events where Sunny was volunteering, so we did know of them.
“But now we are really good friends and will try to stay in touch in the future. This has been a great experience for all of us.”
One thing that neither man could discuss was the outcome of the competition because Disney makes sure that nobody gives away the finale before it airs on television.
Regardless of how the competition turns out, there are going to be many people who are happy since both families have many friends in the Lawton-Fort Sill area chomping at the bit to see just how this battle between a firefighter and a service members turns out.
While both talked about gaining bragging rights, they also admitted there’s something magical about getting $10,000 for just being the best dancers.
“That’s a good bonus; usually I just dance because I love it,” Puletasi said. “It does throw a great deal more pressure on you when that amount of money is hanging over your head.”
That pressure, though, may not come close to comparing with the good-natured ribbing his fellow firefighters will bestow on him if he doesn’t come away as the winner.
“These guys can be rough on you but they are always there when you need them,” he said of his fellow firefighters. “They will have some good laughs regardless of how it turns out.”