Young combatants were pumped for Robot Ninja Warriors by a rocket man qualified to speak to robotics and Ninja Warriors.

Kevin DeBruin spoke to the Zachary students via pretaped video and inspired them to see the obstacle course before them as symbolic to the obstacles in life that are physical, as well as career and relationship related.

“The point is to continue to press on through those,” he said. “If you truly believe in yourself, there’s nothing that can keep you from getting whatever you want.

Bronco Robotics coach Lisa Williams heard DeBruin’s story and felt he would be the perfect motivator for her robotics team and the elementary school students they helped navigate the Robot Ninja Warrior obstacle course Saturday at Zachary High. She sought out DeBruin because he competed in the ninth season of American Ninja Warriors and is NASA rocket scientist.

Great response from Zachary elementary students led to two competition sessions. Competing teams were divided into third-fourth grade teams and fifth-sixth grade teams, with each team working with a high schooler from Bronco Robotics.

Each team programmed a small robot to complete an obstacle course marked on the floor of the high school cafeteria. Points were assigned for each stage completed. In addition to the robots, tools included laptops, rulers and computer programs designed to put a chain of simple commands together to complete the course.

Williams and the Bronco Robotics group is entering its second year of competition with the sponsorship and support from NASA. The team finished 22nd from a field of 66 in its region last school year. The team is rebuilding after last year’s graduation left them with five returning students. However, the middle school has seventh- and eighth-grade robotic classes, and 20 freshmen joined the ZHS team.

Williams learned along with her students as a novice last year but still sees herself more of a facilitator than a robotics expert. “I just know enough to know how much I don’t know,” she said. “If I know enough, I can talk to the other coaches.

“If I can just gather info and bring it to the students, they can take it from there,” Williams said. “I am more of a recipe-finder.”

Bronco Robotics is turning those recipes into the greatest reward: career inspiration. Melissa Esnault, a mentor and parent of last year’s robot driver, said after graduating from Zachary High, her son, Hunter Henderson, is a freshman at Louisiana Tech studying mechanical engineering.

“When he finished competing with our robot, he said he had no doubt he wanted to major in mechanical engineering,” she said.

Williams credits Henderson, who was also a football letterman, with teaching the team to play defense. The team accomplished many goals but fell behind in others. Henderson decided a good strategy on the floor was to keep other teams from completing their goals. “We knew what we could do, and then Hunter played defense,” Williams said.

Sophomore Jude Charlet took the reins of the team robot and gave demonstrations during the Robot Ninja Warriors competition. He also coached a team of elementary students, helping them put coordinates into a computer program called NXT and later moving the smaller robot through the obstacle course.

Charlet is in his second year of Bronco Robotics, but he has the benefit of taking both levels of robotics as a middle-schooler. He has four years of experience programming robots with NXT, and he said he values both the experience and the opportunity to give back. “It’s such a great atmosphere, and it’s fun to work with all these amazing people,” he said.

The robotics bug will probably follow Charlet into college and career as he plans to follow former team member Henderson at Louisiana Tech. He’s interested in studying biomedical engineering. “It will help me design and engineer things that are going to help everybody,” he said.