June Williams shared laughs and hugs with a lot of people in a friendly competition.

The retired Wilburton Public Schools teacher and decades-long multiple sclerosis patient said she enjoyed seeing friendly faces Saturday at the J.I. Stipe Center in McAlester during a pickleball tournament dedicated to her — and she hopes the pickleball tournament helps promote awareness of MS and other illnesses.

“This is awesome because these are my people,” Williams said. “And for people to be aware of, and not just MS, but a lot of things, because you can’t always see what’s going on with people.”

Williams was diagnosed in 1996 with multiple sclerosis — the chronic neurological condition that affects the central nervous system among close to 1 million people in the United States, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Overactive immune cells cause inflammation and damages the myelin to leave a lesion, which then can develop hardened scar tissue at multiple sites. The scarring can disrupt the transmission of nerve signals to various parts of the body.

Experts don’t know the direct cause of MS yet but believe it can be the result of a combination of factors — with research ongoing in immunologic reaction, viral or other infectious agents, environmental factors, genetics and more.

Some symptoms include sudden vision decline, numbness or tingling, changes in balance or coordination, weakness in arms or legs, and heat sensitivity. Anyone who might see these symptoms should consult with their doctor.

Jan Gilmore, a USA Pickleball regional ambassador, worked with June at Wilburton Public Schools for more than a decade and they both went to McAlester chiropractor Dr. Shayne Javersak.

“He told me he wanted to sponsor a pickleball tournament in honor of June and I said ‘absolutely,” Gilmore said.

Two dads created pickleball in 1965 for their Washington families by using an old badminton court, ping pong paddles, and a wiffle ball.

Jan is a former longtime educator who retired after 20 years as an elementary principal in Wilburton before she became a USA Pickleball regional ambassador — playing a lot with Williams.

Javersak said the pickleball tournament seemed like the perfect way to help after the two women got him into playing the sport.

“And June is a great person,” Javersak said.

So they reached out to ask News On 6 anchor LeeAnne Taylor if she would play on June’s team in the tournament and she accepted.

The news anchor said the two clicked when they met and soon came up with the idea to make matching shirts and socks to play together.

Taylor said Williams has been able to manage her decades-long diagnosis in an amazing way.

“Her mental approach to life is something that can rub off on all of us,” Taylor said.

“And win or lose, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is the overall champion here today,” Taylor said. “I think it just putting a name a face with a disease that a lot of people are really unfamiliar with, I think that raises awareness.”

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com or on twitter at @aohanlon3.

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