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Former Riverside mayor Rusty Bailey coaching Riverside Poly girls flag football - FlagSpin

Former Riverside mayor Rusty Bailey coaching Riverside Poly girls flag football

Rusty Bailey, former mayor of Riverside, pretends to throw a ball as he coaches Polytechnic High School’s inaugural girl’s flag football team on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, in Riverside. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

I had to ask.

Rusty Bailey was a two-term mayor of Riverside, and was a city councilman for five years before that – and, not incidentally, used his connections to help bring an AVP beach volleyball tournament downtown in 2009. Since leaving office in 2020 he has gone back to his roots as a high school teacher at Riverside Poly, and this year he has leapt headlong into the CIF Southern Section’s newest sport as the school’s first girls flag football coach.

So what’s more challenging: Dealing with members of the City Council, or coaching adolescent girls?

“Each of them has their own challenges,” he said with a laugh during a phone conversation last week. “I got to pick the (football) team, and so that made it a little easier from the start. But over the long run, you develop relationships with your players, with your teammates, with your cohorts. Probably with adults it’s just a little bit more challenging because they … carry more experiences with them.

“Kids have the naïvete. And so the excitement of everything is new, and they’re excited to be part of it, especially this new flag football team in the inaugural year. And that happens at the beginning when you have new council members or a new city manager, new leadership. But it kind of wears off over time for adults. They’re more guarded in their approach and decision-making and less likely to kind of hand over the reins.”

But, he continued, “It’s similar dynamics in terms of trying to achieve our best and achieve our goals that we set together.”

But there’s also this. On the bus ride back to campus after a victorious game night last week at Vista Del Lago High in Moreno Valley, the girls were singing, dancing – when the bus wasn’t moving, of course – and celebrating. You’ll not get that bubbly enthusiasm in the City Council chambers.

Poly’s first flag football team is doing well. Bailey’s Bears – can we trademark that? – are 9-4 overall and 6-0 in the Ivy League after sweeping two games from Canyon Springs at home this past Tuesday, 31-20 and 28-6. Theirs is a roster packed with two-sport athletes, with players from the girls soccer, softball, lacrosse, basketball and water polo teams making up the 25-player roster.

One of them happens to be Bailey’s youngest daughter, Julia, a senior, who also plays soccer. The story is that when Dad was contemplating coaching girls soccer, his daughter responded, “Absolutely not.” But when the opportunity to coach flag football came up, her response was: “Absolutely.”

True, he said: “She wasn’t really excited about me coaching her soccer team. She’s been playing that all her life. And I go to her games, and she’s seen me coach the boys (which he will do after the flag football season ends). … She wasn’t alive back then when I coached the Poly girls in 2002. So I think since this is new and we’re both just more kind of having fun and learning and growing together, on the team and in flag football, I think this was definitely less stressful for her, less worrisome to have me coaching her.”

Bailey’s involvement goes back to when he coached in a “Powder Puff” football game that was held on the Poly campus last year. Some of the girls who played in that game showed up for flag football tryouts during the first week of school. Others came from the lacrosse team, likely because flag football assistant Lindsay Mingee is also the head lacrosse coach.

The rest of the roster was filled via word of mouth, with still other girls inquiring after the season had begun. There are 14 seniors on the 25-player roster, so there should be plenty of opportunities next fall for those who weren’t able to get on the field this year.

Julia Bailey and fellow seniors Jolena Cerda and Addy Zyber are the leading receivers in what is basically 7-on-7 football with everyone eligible. Going into the Canyon Springs game Zyber had eight touchdowns, seven receiving and one rushing, and Bailey had 10, six through the air. Quarterback Ryann Sigloch threw for 15 touchdowns and rushed for one.

This being the inaugural season of flag football in the Southern Section, with not every school participating yet, there will be no CIF champions crowned. There is an Ivy League championship to play for, however, and there are 11 games remaining in the Bears’ season, including a four-team round-robin involving Ramona, Martin Luther King and Palm Desert this Saturday at King, plus another with Canyon Springs, Moreno Valley and North on Oct. 28 at Canyon Springs to end the season. The games are composed of two 20-minute halves with running time, so doubleheaders are routine.

As soon as flag football is over, Bailey will segue into coaching boys soccer, with a team that was 15-7-4 last season and won its league title the year before.

This is his third year back at Poly teaching and coaching, and the classroom subjects he teaches seem to be in his wheelhouse: World history to sophomores, government and economics to seniors.

His students “love hearing stories,” he said. He’ll discuss visits he made as mayor to Riverside’s sister cities – there are nine in eight different countries – and, for his economics classes, point out the differences between this economy and those in, for example, Japan, Vietnam, China and Mexico. Or he’ll show them recordings of his past State of the City addresses or city council meetings.

“They (say), ‘Wow, public comment. Mr. Bailey, you let him talk to you like that?’” he said.

And that brings up another difference between his old gig and his new one. As mayor, you have to let ’em vent. As a coach, you can make ’em run.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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