Lake Norman & Mooresville

SouthLake Christian student’s tie design soars with Southwest

Southwest Airlines pilot John Levantino, left, Emily Metzger, center, and Southwest Airlines pilot Marc Trider.
Southwest Airlines pilot John Levantino, left, Emily Metzger, center, and Southwest Airlines pilot Marc Trider. SOUTHLAKE CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

At a recent school assembly at SouthLake Christian Academy, Emily Metzger received some surprising news.

The 12-year-old had won the Southwest Airlines 2014 national Tie Design Contest, and beat out more than 5,100 entries.

The annual program that runs each spring coincides with the Adopt-A-Pilot program, which began in 1997 as a supplementary education program in fifth-grade classes.

In the classroom, pilots work with students and use aviation themed lessons related to science, math, geography, writing and other topics.

For the tie design contest, students are given a blank sheet of paper with a necktie outline and asked to create artwork. The winner’s design is turned into neck ties and that are worn by Southwest Airlines pilots for a year.

Huntersville resident and Southwest Airlines pilot John Levantino was adopted by SouthLake as their pilot. He taught the program there last year and will return to teach again this year.

Through his time spent at the school he got to know Emily and saw the hard work that went into the art she created for the contest.

“I couldn’t be more proud if she was my own child. It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Levantino said. “She did a beautiful job. I was practically in tears when I found out one of my students won.”

Emily’s mom, Elizabeth Metzger, said she remembers Emily spending a lot of time on the competition.

“Emily takes everything seriously,” Elizabeth Metzger said. “She was being very careful with her rendering and her drawing.”

Elizabeth Metzger said it was many months between the time the tie designs were submitted and the winning announcement was made, so the family had forgotten about the contest.

When Levantino called to tell Emily’s parents she won, they were excited but had to keep it a surprise so she could learn of her win at the assembly.

At the assembly, Emily didn’t hear the announcement the first time, and her best friends sitting near her had to tell her she won.

Her tie design, which features an airplane, scenic views and phrases such as “Take Flight” and “Live Life” were a creation inspired by the “Cars 2” movie, Emily said, where at the end credits cars are driving into postcards.

She said she tried to keep the words short and sweet, and wanted to represent airplanes taking flight and traveling all over the country.

She learned about the flight patterns of Southwest Airlines airplanes in the Adopt-A-Pilot program when Levantino taught her class, she said.

There is little surprise that Emily’s favorite activities include drawing, reading and writing.

She said she doodles all the time, reads for at least an hour every day and whenever she has a writing assignment she always writes more than required.

“Even if I don’t do art as a job,” Emily said. “I’ll always be the one who doodles on the side of the paper.”

Rachel Daniels is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Rachel? Email her at

Learn more:

To learn more about the contest or to Adopt-A-Pilot go to