Large children who play Pee Wee football in a Prince William County league must wear "high visibility" red vests so referees can quickly stop games to prevent injuries, according to a new policy adopted as a compromise in a dispute over weight limits.

Controversy over the size of the players erupted in a six-team private league two weeks ago when several parents complained that their children were injured or badly frightened in a game against a team with a 9-year-old who weighs more than 150 pounds.

Two coaches in the league have resigned -- and removed their sons -- in protest over what they say are inadequate weight limits in the Pee Wee division for 7- to 10-year-olds.

"These kids are pretty fragile. They're not in high school or college," said James Erwin, one of the coaches who resigned and complained to the Prince William Park Authority, which owns the fields the teams play on. "I felt I was liable, and the league was liable." Erwin asked the Park Authority to stop allowing the league to use the fields until it has adequate weight limits.

The Eastern Prince William Sports Club, which sponsors the league, requires participants in the Pee Wee division to weigh at least 56 pounds, and 10-year-olds to weigh less than 75 pounds. There is no upper weight limit for younger children.

Several parents questioned the wisdom of allowing children whose weights differ by more than 100 pounds to play full-contact football in the Pee Wee division, Erwin said.

But most league parents, including 16 of 19 families on Erwin's team, argued that the heavy child should be allowed to play with children his own age, instead of being forced to play on a team with older children who share his weight but have better motor skills. Those parents point out that all the children wear extensive padding.

"Ability-wise, {the large child} is not above the other kids," said Donny Nesaw, coach of a team that played and beat the Mustangs, the team with the heavy player. "You can't just go by weight. I have a lot of {smaller} 10-year-olds that are more dangerous than him."

Weight controversies are common in youth sports leagues, said Fred Engh, president of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, which has 75,000 members. He said his group recommends setting age spans of no more than two years in leagues.

Pop Warner Football, which sponsors a national youth program with 200,000 participants, permits weight differences of 35 pounds in its eight football divisions to preserve "balanced competition," said Jim Taft, national football commissioner.

"We can't take a lot of kids because they don't fit our standard," Taft said, adding that football great "O.J. Simpson got cut from a Pop Warner team."

In Prince William's compromise to the weight debate, developed by league commissioners and Park Authority officials, children who weigh more than 105 pounds will have to wear red-orange, high-visibility vests and may not carry the football unless it is fumbled, said head commissioner Robert Crawford. Instead, the red-vested players will play on the offensive and defensive lines, so that other children can prepare to play against them.

"Since they have gone to the red jerseys, {smaller children will} have instructions to go the other way" from the large children, said Bob Hodges, whose son and nephew play on other league teams.

Crawford and several other parents said they would consider changing the weight rules after this season, when the discussion would focus on policy rather than specific children.

The compromise failed to satisfy Erwin and his assistant coach, who also resigned. "You could wind up with a kid that was bigger, faster and stronger," Erwin said.

The red-vest rule will affect about seven of the 120 players in the Pee Wee division, Crawford said. Some parents are concerned the larger boys will be taunted and get discouraged.

"I feel so sorry for {the boy}. They are acting like he is some sort of freak, and he isn't," said Debbie Beery, whose 62-pound son plays with the Mustangs.

The controversial third-grader, who loves art and math, will continue playing in the league, said his mother, Irma Watson, who asked that her maiden name be used so her child would not be identified.

"I don't want anybody to think they are running him out," she said.