County teams will receive preference for games and practices on Fairfax area public fields according to the primary season of their sport.

The Board of Supervisors has approved the new policy, which affects about one in three county residents who play on about 800 public athletic fields. The shortage of fields is a growing problem; the plan is an attempt by county officials to distribute scarce space more equitably.

Fall is considered the primary season for football and soccer, so those sports will get a larger share of the fields for games and practices. In the spring, baseball, lacrosse, softball, field hockey and cricket will receive preference. During the summer, high school-age baseball and softball, summer-only leagues, tournaments, new sports and rugby will be favored.

Other sports during those three periods will be considered to be in a secondary season, meaning less access to fields in some cases.

As it is, many teams travel outside the county for practices and games.

The plan was developed after two years of discussions among county recreation officials and representatives of adult and youth sports teams.

The field allocation plan would hardly be an ideal solution; sports such as soccer have made the case that their season is all year. In the spring, 33,291 kids play soccer; in the fall, the number is 37,886, according to county recreation officials.

"It's still not enough to accommodate all sports who need space all year long," Pat Franckewitz, the county's community and recreation services director, told the supervisors Monday.

Among the winners under the new policy, Franckewitz said, are players of new sports, who had complained for years that field use was dominated by the established sports, which crowded them out.

"This provides an opportunity to serve all individuals in Fairfax County who want to be considered for space," the director said.

Teams consisting mostly of county residents would be favored when space is distributed, officials said.

Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville), who had warned that the debate about the policy could be "explosive," was absent during the board vote Monday. He was attending a conference away from the County Government Center, where the board meets.

He had said officials could not turn down field use for soccer, which is the most popular youth sport and one that needs fields almost all year.

Officials involved in the new plan agreed that it would not resolve the long-term shortage of playing fields.

However, they said, the plan should reduce complaints because the sports are treated the same.

Noting that scheduling use of ballfields is a "full-contact sport," Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) told Franckewitz, "You have spared us a lot of pain by going through this exercise."

Soccer teams such as these two in McLean -- the Princess Warriors, in green, and the Orange Tigers -- will receive preference for sports fields in the fall.