As the first female chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Leigh Saufley wears distinguished black robes in the courtroom — a far cry from the hideous unitard she recalls wearing for physical education as a girl in the South Portland school system.

“They were these one-piece gym suits intended to make you never want to do anything physical again in your life,” Saufley said. “They snapped up the front, and they didn’t fit anyone. Mostly we just huddled against the fence and waited for gym class to be over.”

Saufley graduated from South Portland High School a month before Title IX legislation became the law of the land. She grew up with two younger brothers who were encouraged to participate in all manner of sports, and to this day they continue to play basketball and golf.

“When I was in high school, girls’ sports were not big,” she said. “If you were an athlete and a girl, you were most likely part of the cheerleading squad. And that did not include me in any way.”

What Saufley could do better and faster than her brothers was read and process information. She remains a fast reader to this day. But when it comes to exercise, she has to push herself to stay active, whereas her brothers seamlessly incorporate physical fitness into their lifestyles.

Each brother has two daughters, and Saufley marvels at the athletic interests of her four nieces.

“They are encouraged to be involved with sports in a way we never were,” she said.

“They are able to keep up with anything that the guys are doing, and the schools support them, the system supports them. I assume that Title IX has had a very positive effect in that arena.”

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