CHICO — Alida Ruiz's days are filled with football. On weekends, the 10-year-old's up early for the college and pro games. During the week, she's on the field practicing with her teammates on the Chico Pee Wee squad.

"She even sleeps in her pads," her mother, Allison Ruiz, said.

There's just one problem: her size. At only 50 pounds, the Hawk Elementary fifth-grader is too small to compete with the 10- and 11-year-old boys of her age group.

"She's outsized by 100 pounds in some cases," her mother said. "Her coaches aren't even comfortable with her on the field because the fear of her getting injured is so high. She has a huge heart but she's got a little body."

Backed by their team, the Ruiz family petitioned the local Pee Wee Association's central council to allow her to play down one age group, where she's on par weight-wise with her teammates. But in a vote in early September, the council voted against letting her do so. It's been devastating for the 10-year-old.

"I even wake up early to play on the weekends," she said. "But then I remember I can't play."

The rules of the Kitsap Peninsula Adult Pee Wee Association, which includes the Chico team, state that while players may compete above his or her age group, they cannot play below it.

Cy Pauly, president of the association, said the rules have mostly produced harmony within the league.

"The clubs seem, by and large, to be happy with the way it is right now," Pauly said, adding that any club can petition for an exception.

"It's up to the clubs to decide," he added.

Ruiz's situation is backdropped by greater concern for player safety. Some youth leagues have reported declining participation, though Pauly said that has not been the case in Kitsap.

The league is divided into four age groups, called strings: "A" consists of 12- and 13-year-olds; "B" is for 10- and 11-year-olds, "C" is for 8- and 9-year-olds and "D" is for 6- and 7-year-olds.

While Ruiz's age puts her on the B string, she's more on par with the size of the C string players.

The rules moved from a weight-based criteria to an age-based one a decade ago, according to league officials.