What's special about Special Olympics?

For the hundreds of athletes it's having fun while bowling at Bonwood Bowl, skiing down a slope at Brighton, speed skating at Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center or playing floor hockey at Butler Middle School.And for the hundreds of coaches and other volunteers?

As J.D. Donnelly, Special Olympics executive director, said, it's seeing athletes who have never socialized and who are withdrawn "come out of their shell. They realize they are not alone in the world and that they can complete tasks that perhaps no one thought possible."

The athletes who learned, made progress and had fun at the 1991 Utah Winter Special Olympics Games which concluded Saturday at Brighton, include:

- Mark Stratton, 20, a mentally retarded resident at an Ogden care center who has been bowling for four years and who scores an average of 100 to 105 points per game.

The handicapped youth will be among Utah athletes participating at international Special Olympics games July 19-27 in Minneapolis.

- Joni Miller, another bowler who tries to hit the pins every Saturday at the South Salt Lake bowling alley. She attends South Valley Training Company, a private, non-profit day training program in Sandy.

- Darrell Clifford, who took second in the 50-meter dash during the 1990 summer games and who got started alpine skiing during this week's games. He also likes to run and swim.

- Terrilyn Sorenson, 15, who this year entered her seventh year of figure skating competition. She has won many bronze, silver and gold medals. In 1989 she was invited to participate at the international competition in Reno, Nev., but could not compete because of illness. However, she was awarded the Inspirational Athlete of the Year award. Her father, Bill, is her coach.

- Jeff Kerr, who began competing in Special Olympics in 1987. This was his first year in slalom skiing competition, but he previously participated in basketball, gymnastics, track and field and bowling.

Donnelly said Special Olympics, a year-round sports and training program for the mentally retarded aged 8 and older, is making good progress in not only working with the handicapped, but with their prospective employers.

Donnelly said Hardee's, a major sponsor for the Olympics, hires a minimum of one Special Olympics athlete in each of its food outlets. He praised the support of Hardee's president Kevin Cushing, formerly president of the Utah Special Olympics board.

Volunteers like Don Zarkou, director of the University of Utah management team for the Olympics' volunteer effort; and Katherine Glade and Lisa Harrison, East High School seniors, said they enjoy working with Special Olympics.

A senior and economics major at the University of Utah, Zarkou said the management team included about 100 to 150 students who recruited more than 1,000 volunteers for the games.

Being a volunteer provides excellent training skills. But the most rewarding part is the opportunity for personal, one-on-one experiences with the athletes, Zarkou said.

Sharon Bullock of the Special Olympics staff said many of the regular volunteers are members of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing and other personnel at Hill Air Force Base. Thursday night's opening ceremonies honored many volunteers who are now on military duty in the Middle East.